10 Things You Didn’t Know About The Rockefeller Christmas Tree

Holiday cheer begins with the lighting of this NYC landmark.

Some say the end of Thanksgiving marks the beginning of the Christmas season. Still, real New Yorkers know that Christmas season begins with the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree. The yearly tree lighting bewilders onlookers with multiple light spectacles, amassing roughly 125 million tourists each year. Before you mask-up and go see this year’s tree, here are some facts you may not have known about the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree.

1. The First Tree’s Merry Beginnings

The first Rockefeller Christmas Tree was erected in 1931, amid the Great Depression. During that demoralizing time, workers – who were grateful for work – installed the 20-foot tree on Christmas Eve and decorated it with their own garlands, streamers and ornaments. Two years later, Rockefeller Center honored the tradition and put up a 50-foot tree with 700 lights, staging the first tree lighting ceremony.

2. Skating Rink

Rockefeller Center
FACEBOOK Rockefeller Center

After three consecutive years of displaying the Christmas Tree, Rockefeller Center introduced its new “skating ponds” and the tree’s traditional lighting in 1936. The occasion was even marked by a skating pageant. Rockefeller’s temporary ice rink was a massive hit and has continued for the past 80 years.

3. 2020: A Different Kind of Ceremony

Rockefeller Center christmas tree
FACEBOOK Rockefeller Center

Due to COVID-19, the 2020 Christmas Tree ceremony was the first one closed to the public. Live viewings have been popular since the first televised screening during The Kate Smith Show in 1951. However, 2020 marks the new age of corona-culture, affecting the tree lighting tradition. The typically packed Rockefeller plaza will be quiet as only performers, crew and workers are allowed to witness the illumination up close and in-person.

4. 1991’s Giant Tree!

christmas tree
Image by @huefnerdesign from Unsplash

The tallest elm to be plucked from home and brought to Rockefeller Center was  gargantuan 100-foot Norway-spruce from Killingworth, Connecticut.

5. What’s a Tree Without a Topper?

In 2019, the 77-foot Norway Spruce from Florida, NY, dawned a 900-pound Swarovski crystal tree topper. The tree topper, designed by Daniel Libeskind, was covered in over three million Swarovski crystals.

6. Canada’s Spirit of the season.

Canada flag
UNSPLASH Hermes Rivera

In 1966, the Canadian Petawawa Forest Preserve provided a 64-foot white spruce transported 550 miles from Thousand Island Bridge to NYC!

7. Patriotism When We Needed it Most

Rockefeller christmas tree
UNSPLASH Wesley Tingey

Only on two occasions has the Rockefeller Christmas Tree been lit without the country’s color. In 1942, when rations and regulations prevented the tree’s proper material from being used during World War II. The plaza was decorated with three smaller treats each lit up with a shade of the national color.

8. The Green Switch

LED christmas lights
UNSPLASH Greg Rosenke

In 2007, it was announced that the Christmas tree would replace incandescent lights with LED lights from then onward. The switch reduced the tree’s electricity consumption from 3,510 to 1,297 kWh per day!

9. Credentials

Christmas tree, nyc
Image by @johnell_pannell from Unsplash

The Rockefeller Christmas Tree is the perfect example of a big, jolly Christmas tree. Spruce owners worldwide hope to one day grow a spruce tree good enough to be considered for the Rockefeller Plaza. To fit the credentials for a Rockefeller Tree, the entrant tree, the species should ideally be Norway Spruce, at least 75-feet tall, and is either from New York, the surrounding East Coast, or sometimes Canada. The tree is scouted by the head gardener, Erik Pauze, and his team.

10. Charitable donation!

After the Christmas season is over, the Rockefeller Tree is taken down and donated to charity. In 2020, the tree will be donated to Habitat for Humanity for lumber to make new homes!

Daniella Fishman


Daniella is an NYC born adventurer with a love of traveling, writing, eating, and rollerskating. Dani is passionate about supporting local communities and exploring everything from bustling city life to quiet woodland retreats. There is an adventure around every corner if you open your eyes and mind to it.

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