The Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree – Lighting Up the Holidays.
Every year, just after Thanksgiving, our family holds its annual tree lighting ceremony. After we erect and trim our ten-foot Christmas tree, we press the button on the remote and flood the living room with the magic of 3,000 bright, clear lights and our collection of Swarvoski star ornaments. In attendance: two excited little girls and one fluffy white dog.
And every year, just after Thanksgiving, the Rockefeller Center holds its annual tree lighting ceremony in Rockefeller Plaza. After a giant crane hoists the tree in place, it is strung with 30,000 multi-colored energy efficient LED lights and topped with a single, ten-foot custom Swarovski star composed of 25,000 crystals. In attendance: Dignitaries, movie stars, the Rockettes, and half of New York City.
Except for a few details, the lighting ceremonies are strikingly similar.
Although our tree lighting is a cherished family tradition for us here at Del Mar Fans & Lighting, only the Rockefeller Center tree lighting ceremony signals the start of the Christmas season for the entire nation, and possibly the world. But even the world’s most famous tree had a humble start. In 1931, a relatively modest 20’ high tree stood in the middle of the muddy construction site, decorated with tin cans and scrap paper. Two years later, for the first official Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony, standing at the center of attention was a grand 50’ tree.
And although the meaning and the magic of this annual American Christmas tradition has remained the same, the details have changed to reflect the times. Here are ten little known facts about this famous tree and its remarkable 80 year history:
- In 1933, the first official tree was erected with 700 Christmas lights. NBC Radio broadcast the event nationwide. (NBC still broadcasts the ceremony every year, but now it has a worldwide audience).
- In 1936, the ceremony featured two 70-foot-tall trees, and the first ever skating show was held at the center in the newly installed rink.
- In 1942, three trees were decorated in Rockefeller Center, one in red, one in blue, and one in white, in support of the troops serving in WWII.
- In 1944, the tree went unlit in observance of a national blackout.
- In 1951, the Kate Smith show featured the first televised lighting of the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree
- The 1999 tree was the largest. The 100 year old tree stood 100 feet tall and weighed 10 tons.
- Starting in 2007, the tree has been lit with 30,000 energy-efficient LED bulbs, dramatically reducing the amount of energy it takes to power the tree. That is five miles of lights. Solar panels on top of one of the Rockefeller Center buildings provide some of the power. (Source: newyorkled.com). In a further move towards eco-consciousness, the remnants of the tree are repurposed into green lumber by Habitat for Humanity.
- For the past nine years, Swarovski has created a custom star to top the tree. According to the company, the 2012 Swarovski star consists of 25,000 crystals with over 1 million facets. It is 9 ½ feet in diameter and weighs 550 pounds. Nine artisans spent 1,200 hours perfecting, polishing and programming the star, and this year’s annual Swarovski star ornament is a (much) smaller replica.
- The 2012 tree is an 80’ tall tree from the Mount Olive, NJ home of a man by the name of Joe Balku. (The Rockefeller Tree has never been purchased – it is always the donation of a proud American, and many trees are submitted for consideration every year).
- Should you have a gargantuan Christmas tree blotting out the sun in your backyard, there is a link on the official Rockefeller Center website (rockefellercenter.com/submit-a-tree) to submit a tree to be considered for the Rockefeller Christmas tree. The requirements, according to the site, are that it be a Norway spruce at least 75 feet high and 45 feet wide. You must submit a picture which includes a person, to show scale.
But there is more to the ceremony than the tree. Like any holiday celebration, the Rockefeller Center tree lighting ceremony has its share of characters, and they are as much a part of the tradition as the twinkly lights. This year, Scotty McCreery, Il Volo, Rod Stewart, Bette Midler, and many other celebs performed, and while this cast is more famous, and (arguably) more talented than our families, there are many similarities. Do any of these characters make a cameo at your family’s holiday celebrations?
- The Patriarch: For the 2012 ceremony, this part was played by NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg. In the past this role has been filled by presidents and other assorted heads of state. Most families can claim a patriarch or two. He can usually be found holding court in his own comfortable chair, sneaking extra candy to the kids.
- The Diva: A diva is the larger-than-life star of the show. A low-cut sparkly dress is optional, but a soul-stirring voice is not. Mariah Carey, in full ballad-belting glory, occupied the role at this year’s ceremony, but at our house, no one shares the stage with our six-year-old. In mint-green tutu over matching fleece PJ’s, she entertained us for hours with a combination of showstopping original tunes and acrobatic acts, all presented with dramatic flair. Top that, Mariah.
- The Clown: Billy Crystal and The Muppets provided the laugh track for the official celebration, but most families can claim a clown or two, whether the sidesplitting antics come from the family prankster or a precocious toddler.
- The Standard-Bearer: This is the person who brings tradition and decorum to the party. Tony Bennett carried this torch at the 2012 ceremony in admirable style.
- The Commentators: Al Roker and Savannah Guthrie officiated at this year’s ceremony, offering insight and setting the tone for the evening’s festivities. Our family has a commentator of its own – an uncle with an opinion about absolutely everything.
So even if Mariah isn’t entertaining at your holiday soiree and your tree looks more Charlie Brown than Rockefeller, don’t dismay: this 80 foot tall symbol of sparkly holiday cheer belongs to us all.