History Lesson: Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree Tradition

November 20, 2017

Millions of tourists travel each year to New York to witness one of the most magical events of the year. This multi-million dollar event is one no one will forget. The lighting of the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree.

Many years ago, however, the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree wasn't all that glamorous. During the Great Depression on Christmas Eve in 1931, several construction workers pooled some money together to purchase a 20-foot balsam fir in their muddy, construction site. They went home and gathered some homemade garland and decorated the tree. There wasn't much positivity in those days, especially during the Great Depression. Now there was something to look forward to.

Despite their dour faces, these men had something to be happy about. Unlike other workers in the city, they were getting a paycheck. You will notice in the photo below a man behind a wooden crate handing out paychecks with their 20-foot Christmas tree.


Two years later in 1933, the Rockefeller Center decided to make this an annual tradition and arranged the first official tree-lighting ceremony. In 1936, the center put up another tree for the newly established skating rink and held a skating competition.

During World War II, the tree's decoration had a more patriotic appearance with the theme of red, white, and blue ornaments and stars. In 1942, any material needed for the war was not to be put on the tree. Instead, they had three smaller firs, and each was decorated in red, white, and blue. The tree was unlit at this time and continued to be unlit until the war ended in 1945.


The following Christmas, six ultraviolet light projectors installed to make it appear that there were more than 700 fluorescent globes were glowing in the dark. The "year of darkness" was over.

The lighting of the Christmas tree was first televised as a special on "The Kate Smith Show" by NBC in 1951. Still, to this day, the tree lighting is aired on television with millions of viewers and many traveling to experience the epic tradition.


The tree is typically a Norway spruce and today is scouted by Erik Pauze, Head Gardener at Rockefeller Center. While the tree is being cut down, there is a crane nearby to support and move the tree to a telescoping trailer where it is then transported to the Rockefeller Center. Upon arrival, the tree is supported by four guy-wires where two are located at the center of the tree and two at the base connected to steel spikes. Installers build a temporary scaffolding around the tree so they can decorate the spruce with 50,000 colorful LED lights.

This year the tree is 75 feet tall, weighing 12 tons, and is about 80 years old. Have you ever wanted to witness this historic event? In other news, check out these top five toys that will likely sell out this holiday season. They are going fast!

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