Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree Lighting
6 days after the fourth Thursday in November (since 1933)
The Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree is a symbol of pride, continuity, and tradition for New Yorkers and citizens across the United States. Located just outside of the 30 Rockefeller Plaza building, between West 49th and 50th streets and Fifth and Sixth avenues, in Midtown Manhattan's Rockefeller Center, it is usually put up sometime during November. Today, on the Wednesday after Thanksgiving, a ceremony is held and it is lit for the first time.
In 1931, a Christmas tree was put up at Rockefeller Center for the first time, during the center's construction. Demolition workers on the site gathered money together to purchase the tree—a 20-foot balsam fir—and placed it at the spot where they collected their paychecks. On Christmas Eve, they decorated it with handmade garland, strings of cranberries, and tin cans.
The first official Christmas tree, a 50-foot balsam fir, was put up at the spot in 1933, and the tradition of lighting it began. Since the early 1980s, it has exclusively been a Norway Spruce—one later in its life cycle, and usually at least 75 feet in height and 45 feet in diameter. (The tallest tree to date was 100 feet and came from Killingworth, Connecticut, in 1999.) The tree is customarily donated to Rockefeller Center, and usually makes most of its trip there on a truck bed, arriving with much pageantry, being decked with red bows and banners displaying holiday greetings. But the tree has sometimes made part of its trip by barge or plane. It has floated by barge down the Hudson River from Stony Point, New York, and in 1998 it was flown from Richfield, Ohio, on an Anatov 124.
The lights, decorations, and stars of the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree have varied and often changed over the years, and have sometimes reflected events going on in the country or world. For example, the trees were decorated with patriotic designs during World War II, such as red, white, and blue globes. They also were unlit during these years, on account of blackout regulations. In 1942, three smaller trees were set up instead of one large one, and no materials that were essential for the war effort were used in decorating them. Since the 1950s, scaffolding has been placed around the tree when it is being decorated. To hold the tree up, a steel spike is placed at its base, and wires are placed at its midpoint.
In 2001, following the September 11 terrorist attacks, the tree was decorated in red, white, and blue, similar to how it had been during World War II. A 550-pound star made by Swarovski topped the tree for the first time in 2004; it had LED lights added to it the following year, and all of the tree's lights were changed to LEDs in 2007. A new star appeared on the tree in 2018, weighing in at 900 pounds.
During today's ceremony, there is live entertainment and the tree is lit by New York City's mayor, who is joined by special guests. In recent years, "Joy to the World" has been sung after the lighting. The lighting was televised for the first time in 1951, as part of The Kate Smith Show. Since 1997, the lighting ceremony has been broadcast on NBC as Christmas in Rockefeller Center. The tree stays up until at least January 6 the following year and is then donated to Habitat for Humanity to be used for home building.
How to Observe Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree Lighting
Some ways to observe the day include:
- Attend the tree lighting ceremony at Rockefeller Center. Share photos to Rockefeller Center's "Rock Moments" page with the hashtag #RockCenter. You could also include the hashtag #RockefellerCenterChristmasTreeLighting. Prior to or after the ceremony, you could dine or shop at Rockefeller Center, ice skate on The Rink, or visit Top of the Rock.
- Watch Christmas in Rockefeller Center on NBC.
- Sign up for The Rock List to get up-to-date information about the Christmas tree lighting and other events at Rockefeller Center.
- Submit your tree for consideration as next year's Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree.
- Light your own Christmas tree at home.
- Read The Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree or The Christmas Tree at Rockefeller Center. If you have children, you could read them The Carpenter's Gift: A Christmas Tale about the Rockefeller Center Tree.
- Watch the Modern Marvels episode "Christmas Tech."