O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree

By Chelle Cordero

October 29, 2015 4 min read

Where can you go to see a giant Norway spruce decked out with more than 5 miles of lights and topped with 25,000 Swarovski crystals? Where else? The heart of the Big Apple, New York City. Few Christmas trees have rivaled the fame of the Rockefeller Center icon, which is 80 feet tall on average.

Though the first official Rockefeller Center Christmas tree lighting ceremony was in 1933 (a 50-foot pine in front of the RCA Building in the Rockefeller Center complex), a tree had actually been erected earlier, in 1931 by a small group of laborers who were celebrating their good fortune and ability to earn a paycheck during the Great Depression. It was a 20-foot balsam fir, which was decorated with cranberries and paper garlands.

Since the 1930s, the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree has often reflected the status of the nation. For example, in 1942 during World War II, three smaller trees were dressed in the colors of the flag. The patriotic theme of red, white and blue was also incorporated in 2001, the first Christmas after the Sept. 11 attacks. The first televised broadcast of the tree lighting was in 1951 and allowed many more to experience the magic of the event.

Featuring a slew of donated trees from private landowners over the years, the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree has been recycled since 1971 into mulch, lumber for Habitat for Humanity and obstacles at equestrian tracks. The tree exhibit has been even more environmentally conscious since 2007, when light-emitting diodes replaced standard light bulbs and solar panels were installed on a rooftop to power the massive holiday display. Seeing as the colder and crisp outdoor weather keeps the tree fresher, no watering is required, either.

It's estimated that the largest tree that could be transported through the tunnels and New York streets would be 110 feet tall; that theory was certainly tested with the 100-foot tree in 1999. Trees have been hauled on flatbed trucks, flown in by transport plane and floated downriver on barges. The tree should be at least 70 feet tall in order to support the lights and the 550-pound Swarovski star that it is adorned with. The average age of these trees has been about 67 years old.

Tree owners can recommend a tree for use by filling out a form on the Rockefeller Center's website. The management at Rockefeller Center also conducts visual searches by car and helicopter for potential trees for the yearly gala. Trees have been donated from as far away as Ottawa, Ontario (451 miles), the only tree to come from outside the United States, and as close as Wayne, New Jersey (29 miles). New York state has donated the largest number of trees to date (32), with the Rockland County town of Suffern earning the distinction for the most trees from one community (five).

The Swarovski star that has adorned the top of the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree since 2004 measures about 9 1/2 feet by 1 1/2 feet and is composed of 25,000 crystals. Updated in 2007, the star has six outer rays and six inner rays made of shatterproof glass. The crystals are set just inside the glass, and the star is lit by 720 light-emitting diodes for the utmost radiance. The tree is adorned with 45,000 colorful LEDs.

The 83rd annual lighting of the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree is set for Wednesday, Dec. 3, with live entertainment from 7 to 9 p.m.; the tree will remain lit until 8 p.m. on Jan. 6. The tree lighting ceremony is free and open to the public on a first-come, first-served basis and will also be televised for those who cannot be there in person. The tree will be lit from 5:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. daily, all day long (24 hours) on Christmas and from 5:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. on New Year's Eve. The location of this year's tree is currently being kept secret to help keep it and the route safe until just before the transporting of it begins.

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