Rockefeller Center in New York City is home to one of the world's most recognizable symbols of Christmas — the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree. The massive tree will be lit Nov. 30, 2022, and will remain on display until early January 2023, when millions will 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?
For the 2022 season, an 82-foot (25-meter) tall, 14-ton (12.7-metric ton) Norway Spruce gets the honor of towering over Rockefeller Center's plaza in all its holiday glory. The sprawling tree is approximately 85 to 90 years old and is from Queensbury, New York. Erik Pauze, the head gardener for Rockefeller Center, has been responsible for choosing the trees for 30 years.
"This year, someone sent me a photo of a tree in Glens Falls, New York, so I went to go check it out," Pauze said in a statement. "On the way to go see it, I passed another tree in a vacant lot [in Queensbury], and thought to myself, 'I need to come back to this tree.' After I finished with the other tree, I went back, walked up and down both sides of the street, and took a few pictures. I then did some calling around to find out who the owner of the tree was and made an appointment to inspect it closer. When I got closer, I knew it was perfect. I figured, let's get this one to Rockefeller Center."
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 practice 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. This year's tree will be covered in more than 50,000 multicolored LED lights on approximately 5 miles (8 kilometers) of wire. It will also be topped by the famed Swarovski Star that's covered in 3 million crystals on 70 triangular spikes.
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 VIP seating for the lighting ceremony — who donate the green superstar. Some tree owners are wooed by Rockefeller Center, while others volunteer their tree. Have a gorgeous Norway Spruce that could be the next Rockefeller Center Christmas tree? 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
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. Today the ideal tree is a Norway Spruce that is at least 75 feet (23 meters) tall and 45 feet (14 meters) in diameter. "The Norway Spruce is great for the scale it can achieve, it can hold the lights on its branches, and it stands there nice and proud as the tree should," Pauze said. "This year's tree is 82 feet [25 meters] tall and 50 feet [15.2 meters] in diameter; when I saw it over the top of a couple of stores, I hoped the bottom looked as good as the top."
5. Home Sweet Holiday Tree
So what, exactly, does one do with an 82-foot (25-meter) Christmas tree once the holidays are over? Recycling the Rockefeller Center tree takes repurposing to a whole new level. Since 2007, the Rockefeller Christmas tree has been 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.
Now That's a Hoot
In 2020, a tiny owl stowed away in the Rockefeller Christmas tree from upstate New York all the way to Manhattan. Nicknamed "Rocky," the adult male Saw-whet owl was rescued by the Ravensbeard Wildlife Center and released back into the wild. Rocky has even become the star of a few children's books.
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