The history of the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree

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NEW YORK — On Wednesday, the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree will be lit up for the holiday season. Though the spruce attracts over 100 million people each year, the annual tradition, now in its 86th year, had humble beginnings. 


The first Christmas Tree outdates Rockefeller Center. On Christmas Eve 1931, a group of construction workers bought a 20-foot fir tree. It was adorned with homemade decorations. Two years later in 1933, 30 Rockefeller Plaza opened and with it the first official Christmas tree was displayed with just 700 lights.

The custom continued through the Great Depression. During World War II, trees weren’t lit to comply with blackout regulations, but they were decorated in patriotic red, white and blue. In 1949, the tree was painted silver as if to appear draped in snow.


The first tree lighting ceremony was televised in 1951 on the “Kate Smith Show.” Since then, famous celebrities and politicians have hosted the special.

Though the tree is the main attraction, there are other holiday fixtures around the plaza. The dozen wired angels first appeared in 1969.

This year, a new, 900-pound Swarovski Star is debuting, which contains three million crystals along 70 triangular spikes.


The 2018 tree hails from Wallkill, N.Y., and is 72-feet-tall and weighs nearly 12-tons.

The tree will remain up until January 7. After that, it will go from a Christmas Tree to a Giving Tree, with its wood being donated to Habitat for Humanity.

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