Rockin’ Around the Rockefeller Christmas Tree

The 2022 Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree. A place where all people can come together and celebrate Christmas. Photo courtesy of Devon Rudolph.

Where’s Kevin?! In Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, Kevin McCallister played by Macaulay Culkin finds himself lost in the “Big Apple” without his family. He travels all around the city from toy stores to The Plaza hotel. At the end of the film, Kevin’s mother finds him looking at the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree and making a wish to be with his family on Christmas day. This infamous scene has brought many visitors to New York City to visit this special place, where all people can come together and celebrate this magical holiday. 

As the Great Depression was hitting the United States in 1931, many people were brought down and lost hope. To bring their spirits up, a group of Italian-American workers placed a 20-foot balsam fir at Rockefeller Center on Christmas Eve for all to see; the center was being constructed at the time. The tree was decorated with tin cans and cranberry garlands. Two years later, a 50-foot tree was lit and it became the first official tree to commemorate the start of a yearly tradition that will last forever. The trees that were chosen over the past 90 years have mostly been Norway Spruce but there have been a few white spruces and balsam firs in the mix. In 1936, a skating rink, now known as The Rink, so that all could enjoy the view of the glistening tree. In 1969, artist Valerie Clarebout created 12 herald angels and they were added in front of the tree at the Channel Gardens. 

The Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree tradition has displayed what the United States experienced that particular year; good and bad. World War II led to three trees being raised instead of just one with each tree being a color of the American flag. They were decorated with simple and patriotic ornaments, including red, white, and blue globes and painted wooden stars. Following the end of the war, six ultraviolet light projectors were used to make the tree’s 700 fluorescent globes appear to glow in the dark because the tree went unlit due to blackout regulations from the past two years. After the 9/11 attacks, the Christmas tree was again decorated with the colors of the American flag to symbolize patriotism and strength. Ronald Miller, Criminal Justice teacher, said “It brought all sorts of people together.” 

Since 1951, NBC has televised the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony. Years later, in 1997, the lighting of this spectacular tree was televised live on the NBC special, Christmas in Rockefeller Center, and has been ever since. Thousands of spectators are in attendance each year and millions at home watch this tree sparkle in all of its glory. Senior Cadie Roberts stated, “The significance of the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree is about bringing people all together during the holidays and it’s a place where the community can gather.” The NBC special includes celebrity guests, live performances by some of the biggest names in the music industry, and a special performance from the Rockettes. 

 Now, in 2022 with the 90th anniversary of the annual tree lighting, the 82-foot Norway Spruce is decorated with 50,000 multi-colored LED lights and a star on top. This star was created in 2018 by Daniel Liebeskind, a well-known architect, and is made of Swarovski crystal that includes 70 spikes and three million crystals with LED lighting spots; it weighs a total of 900 pounds. Roberts added “Since the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree is so big, it can be seen so far, so people are drawn to it.” Starting in 2009, the tree is lit after a five second countdown and since 2011, the tree lighting is by a rendition of the song “Joy to the World.” It’s truly a worldwide symbol of the Christmas season. Mary Bowersox, high school math teacher, shared “In our hemisphere, it’s a very dark time of the year; the Advent season and the Christmas season are in the darkest time of the year and those lights, they just called us to be around there. They’re beautiful and they’re dazzling and they’re a symbol of joy” 

Year after year, many people from all over the world visit Rockefeller Center. It is estimated that 125 million people visit this Christmas tree from when it’s lit on Nov. 30 to when it’s taken down on Jan. 6. On Christmas Day, the tree is lit up for 24 hours. Miller said “It symbolizes wealth, education, and success as my father planted several thousand of the trees to sell and pay for my college.” It’s not just the tree that is decorated, it’s the entire city. Bowersox said, “It’s absolutely spectacular; that part of the city is absolutely beautiful at Christmas time. It’s all lit up. The storefronts all have their Christmas decorations up and it’s just a very beautiful and joyful time of the year there.” The Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree defines the Christmas season as merry and bright.