Published: 22-08-2012, 12:35

Christmas in New York City: Rockefeller Center

Christmas in New York City

Christmas in New York City: Birth of Santa Claus

Christmas in New York City: Macy’s Parade

Christmas in New York City: Window Displays

Christmas in New York City: Other Decorations

Christmas in New York City: Events

Christmas in New York City: New Year’s Eve

Other New York City Christmas sites and decorations that have become familiar to the public at large include the Christmas tree and skating rink at Rockefeller Center. Over the years Rockefeller Center has become an important destination for the city’s Christmas tourists. In 1996, half a million people per weekend visited the site.

The first Rockefeller Center tree, erected in 1931, measured only 12 feet high. It was put up on the empty lot by the men at work constructing the new complex of buildings, some say out of gratitude for having a job during the Depression. In 1933 the owners of the completed Rockefeller Center decided to carry on the tradition of the yearly tree. The tradition has been going strong since then. Designers have tried various tree-decorating schemes over the years. In 1933, strings of blue and white lights ornamented the tree. Another year only floodlights were used. During World War II, ornaments took the place of lights, which were eliminated in order to meet wartime blackout requirements. The use of ornaments was discontinued, however, when it was discovered that high winds, enhanced by the wind tunnel effect created by the surrounding tall buildings, could easily dislodge them from the tree. Decorators realized the danger posed by ornaments the year they festooned the tree with aluminum icicles. During strong winds the tree menaced people passing below by discharging volleys of the spear-like icicles. These days approximately 30,000 electric lights adorn the ornament-free tree, which is topped by a 60-pound star.

Rockefeller Center’s landscape and garden team search New York state and New England for potential Christmas trees throughout the year. In order to find a Norway Spruce — the preferred variety—that has grown to about 70 or 80 feet, the team may employ the services of a helicopter. The trees usually come from privately owned properties rather than forests, as this variety is not native to the region. Once the ideal tree is spotted, the owners are approached with an offer to sell their tree. Many feel it an honor to have their tree selected for Rockefeller Center. The final selection is made by mid-summer. At the end of the Christmas season, the tree is turned into mulch and recycled into the earth.

The first few Christmas trees at Rockefeller Center were erected in the middle of the sunken plaza. In 1936 the plaza was transformed into a winter ice-skating rink. Nowadays the tree is set up between the rink and the General Electric building (formerly the RCA building).