Holiday celebrations are in full swing all over NYC, and there’s no better symbol of the season than Rockefeller Center’s famous tree. While it’s recognizable all across the globe, even born and bred New Yorkers may learn a thing or two from this list of fun facts.
- It’s got very humble origins
While today’s tree is a glittery example of the bigger-is-better spirit that permeates the city, the first tree in 1931 was raised under a slightly different set of circumstances. The construction workers, happy to be on the job in the midst of the Great Depression, showed their Christmas spirit by pooling money to set up a 20 foot balsam fir which they decorated with homemade garlands and ornaments. It became an official tradition two years later, and with the completion of Rockefeller Center and the resurgence of the city, it became a symbol of the again-prosperous country.
- Generosity is a rule
The spirit of giving truly lives in this Christmas tradition! Rockefeller Center pays for cutting and transportation, but every year’s tree comes as a donation from property owners who decide to let their tree light up Midtown. Not to end there, every tree since 1973 has also been recycled. Earlier years saw them mulched to be spread in NYC parks, but more recently trees have been turned into wood beams which are then used by Habitat for Humanity as they build homes for low-income Americans.
- It’s got a suitably big decoration budget
It stands to reason that this major tree requires some serious decorating. It takes a crew of 20 about 9 days to complete the process, and their working materials put even the most enthusiastic home decorator to shame. The string of lights is about 7 miles long-enough to cover the border of Central Park! Along that wire there’s 50,000 LED lights, which use less energy and make the tree even more ‘green.’ Standing atop the mighty spruce is the crowning jewel–specially redesigned by famed architect Daniel Libeskind for 2018. The Swarovski star is made up of 70 spikes with 25,000 crystals and weighs in at an incredible 900 pounds. It reportedly costs about $1.5 million.
- If it can make it here…
Moving a 70-80 foot tree is no small task, so organizers normally look to nearby New Jersey or Connecticut for ease of getting the massive spruce to Rockefeller Center. That wasn’t the case, however, in 1998. Richfield, Ohio was the home of that year’s choice fir, brought to NYC on the world’s largest transport plane. While that journey was certainly a long one, that airborne trip wasn’t the longest distance the tree has had to travel to Midtown. That honor goes to 1967’s iteration, which hailed from Petawawa Forest in Ontario, Canada. After 550 miles traveled, NYC had their perfect tree. It’s also been delivered on a barge down the Hudson River, meaning whether by air, land or sea, there’s no obstacle to getting the perfect Spruce into Rockefeller Center!
- Among the skyscrapers
The tree’s height of course varies every year, but organizers generally like to find one within a sweet spot of between 65 to 80 feet. In 1999, however, fresh off the tree’s first airplane flight in history, organizers must have felt the need to top themselves. That was accomplished with the tallest specimen NYC has seen: a whopping 100 foot high Norway Spruce from Killingworth, Connecticut. Cathy and Jim Thomson generously gave this monster over to Rockefeller Center and got to see their pride lit up for the entire city to enjoy. This year’s tree tops out at 72 feet, and will stay up for New Yorkers and tourists alike to enjoy until January 7th.