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  • The Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree

    By Anthony Parente

    Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree 2021
    Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree 2021 - Antony Quintano
    Each year in the heart of New York City people gather to witness an amazing spectacle that has become an enduring symbol of the Christmas season. The lighting of the iconic Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree has been a New York tradition that dates to the 1930's.

    In 1931 during the Depression era, construction began on the Rockefeller Center Complex located in Midtown Manhattan. In December of that year Italian American workers on the complex decided to pool their resources and purchase a 20-foot balsam fir tree. The tree was placed on site, decorated with handmade garland, and strings of cranberries from their families. It was designed to lift workers' spirits and to be thankful for working during a challenging time for many families.

    In 1933 it was decided to make the Christmas tree an annual tradition. A 50-foot balsam fir was placed on site and the very first tree lighting ceremony was held. What was originally a symbol of hope for the workers became a symbol of hope for everyone. In 1936 two trees were placed at Rockefeller Center for the opening of the ice-skating rink. During World War II the trees had a patriotic theme decorated with red, white, and blue unlit globes and painted wooden stars. The trees were unlit due to blackout regulations. After the tragedies of September 11, 2001, the tree was once again decorated with a patriotic theme of red, white, and blue.

    The first televised tree lighting took place in 1951 as NBC aired the event on the The Kate Smith Show. Up until 1997 it was only aired in New York. Since then, it has been televised by NBC on primetime for the nation to see. Before the lighting of the tree some of the biggest names in music would perform.

    There have been only three distinct species of trees used: balsam fir, white spruce, and Norway spruce. Since 1982 the Norway spruce has been exclusively used. In 1999 the largest tree measured one hundred feet tall. Once a tree has been selected a crane is used to support it as it gets cut and then placed on a telescoping trailer. Over the years the tree has been transported by barges, trucks, and a transport plane. After the holiday season the tree is taken down, milled into lumber, and donated to Habitat for Humanity. Each piece of lumber is stamped Rockefeller Center Tree along with the date.

    The 2023 tree is eighty foot tall and illuminated with over 50,000 multi-colored LED lights on wire that is approximately five miles long. It is topped with a Swarovski Star that features three million crystals on seventy triangular spikes.

    According to the Rockefeller Center website the tree will be lit daily from 5am-midnight until January 13th. On Christmas Day the tree is lit for 24 hours and on New Year's Eve it is lit from 5am to 9pm.

    What started as a symbol of hope by a group of Italian American laborers has grown into one of the most cherished Christmas traditions. A glowing symbol of hope, joy, and unity that brings together people from all over the world to celebrate the holiday season.

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