5 Fun Facts About the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree

86th Annual Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree lighting, NYC 86th Annual Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree lighting, NYC
The 86th Annual Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony took place at Rockefeller Center on Nov. 28, 2018 in New York City. John Lamparski/Getty Images

Rockefeller Center in New York City is home to one of the world's most recognizable symbols of Christmas — the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree. After a televised lighting ceremony at the end of November, the tree remains on display until early January, during which time millions make it their mission to see it in person. So, how did this tradition get its start and how, exactly, is this special tree chosen?

1. Scratching a Seven-Year Itch

A 72-foot (22-meter) tall, 12-ton (10-metric ton) Norway spruce gets the honors of towering over Rockefeller Center's plaza in all its holiday glory. In fact, Rockefeller Center has been eyeing the 75-year-old tree for years. The massive tree, affectionately dubbed "Shelby," was located on the farmhouse of Shirley Figueroa and Lissette Gutierrez in Wallkill, New York, which is about 80 miles (128 kilometers) north of New York City. "After we bought the house, the previous owner told us, 'Hey, by the way, the tree in the yard? Rockefeller Center has been scouting it,'" Figueroa told NBC New York. "I didn't believe it. Until they came knocking on the door." Shelby made her journey from Wallkill on a huge flatbed truck to Midtown Manhattan and will be strung with 5 miles (8 kilometers) of multi-colored LED lights and topped with a brand new star made of 3 million Swarovski crystals.

2. A Decades-Long Tree-dition

The official tradition of lighting a huge Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center began in 1933 — and has continued every year since. However, this tree-dition actually got its start in 1931. During the Great Depression and during the building of Rockefeller Center, construction workers pooled their welcome paychecks to erect and decorate a 20-foot (6-meter) tree. The strings of cranberries and garlands of paper were added on Christmas Eve, and a decades-long idea was born.

3. Donating a Gift to Millions

More than 2.5 million people view the towering and intricately decorated Rockefeller Center Christmas tree every year, and among them are the families — awarded V.I.P. seating for the lighting ceremony — who donated the green superstar. Some tree owners are wooed by Rockefeller Center, while others volunteer their tree. Have a gorgeous Norway Spruce that could be a Rockefeller Center candidate? You can begin the tree-donation process online, but keep in mind, it may be a few years before your tree receives the final nod.

4. A Growing Event

Rockefeller Center, Christmas tree Rockefeller Center, Christmas tree
Rockefeller Center in New York City is home to one of the world’s most recognizable symbols of Christmas — the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree.
Noam Gala/Getty Images

What started with a 20-foot (6-meter) balsam fir in 1931 and grew to feature a 40-foot (12-meter) balsam fir at the first official tree lighting ceremony in 1933 has expanded into a massive holiday undertaking. By 1971, the conifer chosen for the Rockefeller Center celebration was 65 feet (20 meters) tall and by 1999, the tree was a 100-foot-tall (30-meters-tall) specimen. In recent years, the ideal tree is a Norway Spruce that is at least 75 feet (23 meters) tall and 45 feet (14 meters) in diameter, according to the Rockefeller Center website.

5. Home Sweet Holiday Tree

So what, exactly, does one do with a 72-foot (22-meter) Christmas tree once the holidays are over? Recycling the Rockefeller Center tree takes repurposing to a whole new level. The tree is milled into lumber, which is then donated to Habitat for Humanity and used to build a home. Each piece of wood is stamped "Rockefeller Center Tree," along with the date of its 15 minutes of fame.

Last editorial update on Nov 29, 2018 11:41:14 am.