The Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree has served as a beacon of hope and prosperity for millions each holiday season since its humble beginnings amid the Great Depression.
In December 1931, the United States and the majority of the world were feeling the effects of the Great Depression. While trying to survive and provide in the wake of the 1929 stock-market crash, when every penny counted, a group of construction workers in New York City pooled their money together to make a purchase. It wasn’t food. It wasn’t clothes. It wasn’t fuel.
Instead, they bought a Christmas tree to stand on the site of Rockefeller Center, which was just starting to be constructed in Midtown Manhattan. The 20-foot-high (6 meters) balsam fir, adorned with home-made garlands from the workers’ families, served as a symbol of hope and optimism during the dire financial and economic times.
Little did these workers know that their Christmas tree would spur a new tradition. In 1933 a Rockefeller Center publicist initiated a tree-lighting ceremony, which has taken place at the plaza between West 48th and West 51st streets and Fifth and Sixth avenues ever since.
NBC has broadcast the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony nationally since 1951. The event, held the week after Thanksgiving, is free and open to the public on a first-come, first-served basis. The tree welcomes millions of visitors annually through the holiday season and new year, remaining on display into the first week of January.
The tree, typically a Norwegian spruce ranging in height from 60 feet to 100 feet (18-30 meters), is adorned with five miles (eight kilometers) of multicolored LED lights and ornaments and, as of 2018, is topped with a star that comprises 3 million Swarovski crystals.
Finding the iconic tree each year is up to the due diligence of the Rockefeller Center head gardener. Erik Pauze, who has held that title since 2010, constantly scours the region, visiting nurseries as well as fielding tips and submissions provided by homeowners. Pauze keeps an eye on potential candidates throughout the year − seeing how they fare as the seasons change − while feeding and watering the trees regularly. He makes his final decision in September, and the winning tree, which is donated by its owners, is transported to New York City in October for its big debut.
After the tree has fulfilled its duties at 30 Rockefeller Plaza, it is taken down, milled, treated and made into lumber to be used for homebuilding. The lumber has been donated to Habitat for Humanity since 2007.
The 2018 Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony takes place 8-10pm on November 28. The tree is on display daily through 9pm on January 7, 2019. Visiting hours are 5.30am until 11.30pm.
Need somewhere to stay in the Big Apple? Check out our guide to the best hotels with a balcony in NYC, bookable now on Culture Trip.
This article is an updated version of a story first created by AJ Samuels.
Volcanic Iceland Epic Trip
meet our Local Insider
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN A GUIDE?
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT YOUR JOB?
It's the personal contact, the personal experiences. I love meeting people from all over the world... I really like getting to know everyone and feeling like I'm traveling with a group of friends.
WHAT DESTINATION IS ON YOUR TRAVEL BUCKET-LIST?
I have so many places on my list, but I would really lobe to go to Africa. I consider myself an “adventure girl” and Africa feels like the ULTIMATE adventure!
Every CULTURE TRIP Small-group adventure is led by a Local Insider just like Hanna.
KEEN TO EXPLORE THE WORLD?
Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world
Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.
Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.
Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.
Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.
We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.