In Honor of the Rockefeller Center Tree Lighting


Grace Scheidler

November 30th, 2016 is the 84th Annual Rockefeller Center Tree Lighting.

Christmas would not be Christmas without evergreens strung with lights and glittering with ornaments, topped with a star and rife with symbolism and elements of cultural diffusion (thanks, AP World!) throughout centuries of tradition. Though chopping down a tree and propping it up in our living rooms might seem strange, it’s the most recognizable icon of the holiday, and it only takes a whiff of pine to bring memories of Christmas’ past to the forefront of our minds. And while other countries might prefer their trees about four feet tall, in America where the “bigger is better” mindset reigns supreme, evergreens were no exception.

So is it really a surprise to hear that the tree going up in front of Rockefeller Center today has to be at least 65 feet tall? (Although, that’s nothing compared to the 100-foot behemoth of a Norway Spruce they put up in 1999.)

The trees taking part in this time-honored festivity weren’t always so gigantic, and the tree-dition itself actually began with much humbler roots. Before Rockefeller Center was even a thing, a few construction workers back in 1931 put up a small tree decorated with tin cans and cranberries on what would become Rockefeller Center. In comparison, today’s trees require a special police escort to transport it into the heart of Manhattan, and are strung with an estimated 45,000 lights that could stretch five miles if unwound and laid out in a line. And that 550-pound, 9.5-foot wide star on top? Worth an estimated $1.5 million in Swarovski crystals. The decorations were kept a little more spartan during WWII, though, as they couldn’t put any lights up on the tree due to the blackout regulations–there were three trees at this time, though, so it evens out.

Nowadays, in addition to offering an official kickoff day for the holiday festivities to begin (as if they weren’t already in full swing), the tree gives back; after January 6th, when they take down the tree, they chop it up into lumber and give it to Habitat for Humanity. The tree is officially lit tonight at 7PM Eastern, so be sure to check it out! And if you’re lucky enough to make it out east this Christmas and see the tree in person, be sure to snap a pic or two.