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The History of the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree

The History of the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree

Many of you may be familiar with the iconic Rockefeller Center Christmas tree. It is an amazing attraction to visit around the holidays, but what is the story behind it? Surprisingly, this tree was not the first public Christmas tree in New York City. There was one in Madison Square Park, created in 1912, so that people who could not afford their own Christmas tree could admire this public one. 

Years later in 1931, the world famous Rockefeller Christmas tree was born. At this time, John D. Rockefeller Jr.’s Rockefeller Center complex was a year into construction. On Christmas Eve in 1931, the devastation of the Great Depression was clear, and so in the hopes of raising spirits, workers put together their money to purchase a Christmas tree. It was 20 feet tall, and decorated with cranberry strings and handmade garland. 

Two years later, a Rockefeller Center publicist decided to make this tree an annual tradition. The first official lighting ceremony took place with a 50 foot tree. Then, by 1936, a skating pageant was held at the newly opened ice skating rink on the Plaza, introducing two Christmas trees into the festivities. 

During World War II, the city decided to do something patriotic in support of American efforts. Instead of one big tree, they had three smaller trees, decorated in each color of the American flag. Any materials on them that may be used for the war had been prohibited to use as decorations. In 1944, they could not light the tree due to blackout regulations. In 1945, when the war was over, six ultraviolet light projectors were used to make the trees look very unique, giving them an incredibly gorgeous almost glow-in-the-dark look. 

In 1951, the tree lighting was put on television for the first time. The decorating process became more intricate. It took nine days and twenty workers to complete the decorating! Many more notable events took place with this tradition, including the first time the tree had been recycled. It was repurposed for nature trails in upper Manhattan. 

The question often arises, “Where do they find a tree?” Many of the trees throughout the years have been donated, or were selected by David Murbach. He unfortunately passed away in 2009, and now the trees are selected by Erik Pauzé. 

For this year, Erik found a tree in Broome County, New York, but quickly changed his mind after seeing a different one in Vestal, New York. This year’s tree has just been lit on November 29th, 2023, around 7PM Eastern Time. It was a beautiful thing to watch on television, and it is also an amazing place to visit any day around the holiday season. 

To sum up everything stated, the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree is an incredible tradition with quite a long backstory. Witnessing it in person is a truly charming experience, making it an absolute must-see if you plan on visiting New York City this holiday season.

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About the Contributor
Eileen Harvey, Student Writer
Introducing Eileen. She is a freshman and this is her first year writing for The Gull. She enjoys volleyball, fashion, and loves Taylor Swift. She hopes to have a great first year of writing for The Gull, and hopes to do it for the rest of high school too!

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