The First Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree Appeared Nearly 100 Years Ago

Holiday celebrations in New York City are renowned across the United States. The Macy's 4th of July fireworks are set off over the East River. The Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade covers miles of Manhattan. Thousands ring in the new year at midnight on January 1 in the heart of Times Square. All of these celebrations are televised year after year in the City that Never Sleeps.

Christmas in New York City is almost as iconic as the city itself. Famous films old and new that take place in the city — like "Miracle on 34th Street" and "Elf" — have become part of family traditions and show just how long people have associated New York City with Christmas. Some of the most beloved traditions of a New York City Christmas date back to nearly 100 years ago, including the colossal tree at Rockefeller Center in midtown Manhattan.

The tradition began during Rockefeller Center's construction

As previously mentioned, holiday celebrations in New York City are televised. "The Kate Smith Show" first aired the tree lighting in 1951. Now a primetime special, "Christmas at Rockefeller Center" airs every year on NBC with A-list performances that culminate in the lighting of the massive Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center. But the large to-do for this event is a far cry from the origins of this tradition.

In the early 1930s, Rockefeller Center was still under construction. At the helm of the plans was John D. Rockefeller Jr. It was the largest private building endeavor at the time with 14 buildings. As the Great Depression took over, construction workers managed to collectively buy a Christmas tree for Rockefeller Center in 1931 — it was just 20 feet high. By 1933, lighting a tree in Rockefeller Center became a tradition, and that year's tree was over double the size of the tree in 1931. The ice skating rink in Rockefeller Center opened in 1936. Two trees appeared that year to commemorate the new addition to the center (per 6sqft).

Rockefeller Christmas trees are at least 65 feet tall

As the tradition has grown to include sculptures of angels and more decorations, the tree has continued to grow as well. In November, the New York Post announced that the 2022 tree from Queensbury, New York is 82 feet tall. The tree is 90 years old, making it as old as the Rockefeller tradition itself. The Rockefeller trees now get decorated with 50,000 lights and a custom-made Swarovski crystal star on top that weighs 900 pounds.

Over the years, Rockefeller Christmas trees have come from multiple locations. The 1966 tree came all the way from Canada. Owners submit their trees for selection, but winners do not receive any form of compensation. They are normally Norway Spruce trees planted specifically for Christmas because this species does not reach Rockefeller-sized dimensions in forests (Rockefeller Center requires the tree to be at least 65 feet tall). The trees do not go to waste after Christmas, however — most are turned to mulch for reuse elsewhere (per NYC Data).