5 Fun Facts About the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree

By: Laurie L. Dove  | 

Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree
A view of the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree, with Swarovski Star atop, during the 87th Annual Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony at Rockefeller Center on Dec. 04, 2019 in New York City. Steven Ferdman/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 this year that will take place Dec. 4, 2019, the tree will remain 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. A Tree Destined for Rockefeller Center

A 77-foot (23-meter) tall, 12-ton (10-metric ton) Norway spruce gets the honors of towering over Rockefeller Center's plaza in all its holiday glory. This year's tree is approximately 70 to 75 years old and like last year's tree, this one too is from New York. Florida, New York, that is. It was a gift from resident Carol Schultz, who planted the tree in 1959. "I always said, 'You're going to be up in Rockefeller Center someday and you're going to be a beautiful tree when you get older,'" Schultz told NBC. "When I see the tree lit up, I'm probably going to cry." Once fully decorated, the tree will be topped with a newly redesigned star from Swarovski Crystals and architect Daniel Libeskind.

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 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.


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.


Originally Published: Nov 7, 2019