6 Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree Facts


by Mike Albo

Tonight is the lighting of the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree. Here are some essential talking points about the Norway spruce.

© Dima Gavrysh/Reuters/Corbis

1. The first time New Yorkers put up a Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center in 1931, it was like something out of Dickens. The Depression-era workmen building the center were so grateful to have jobs that they decorated a spruce tree with strings of cranberries, paper garlands, and a few tin cans. On December 24, they lined up beneath the tree and received a small Christmas miracle: paychecks. The first official Rockefeller Center Christmas tree went up in 1933.

2. The biggest rock outside 30 Rock is sitting right on top of the tree.

The 550-pound Swarovski star is made of 25,000 crystals, 720 LED bulbs, 44 circuit boards, and 3,000 feet of wire. The crowning jewel is estimated to be worth $1.5 million.

3. To find the perfect, seven-story spruce each year, Rockefeller Center conducts aerial searches by helicopter. The tree needs to be dense enough to accommodate all the ornaments and short enough to fit under bridges as it’s shipped to the city. To avoid traffic, Rockefeller Center always sneaks the tree in at night, when the streets are the most quiet.

4. After Christmas, the tree keeps on giving. In 1971, its branches were ground into 30 large bags of mulch, which were spread over upper Manhattan nature trails; in 2005, Habitat for Humanity used the heartwood to make doorframes for houses for the needy; and last year, about 15 percent of the tree went into making paper for a book called The Carpenter’s Gift. It’s about people helping one another, and the proceeds go to charity, of course.

5. Recently, Rockefeller Center has been trying to make the evergreen tree a little bit greener. Since 2007, the spruce has been lit with 30,000 energy-efficient LEDs, which are powered by solar panels. Of course, the panels work best when it’s sunny outside, so during New York City’s cold, dark winters, they’re mostly decorative, too.

6. The tree is tall, and it’s in Manhattan, so naturally, people have tried to climb it over the years. Most do it for fun, but in 1979, one 27-year-old man scaled it with purpose. He made it all the way to the top, shouting, “Free the 50!”—a reference to the Americans who were being held hostage at the U.S. embassy in Iran. The police talked him down from the branches by carefully explaining to him that climbing the tree would not, in fact, help release the prisoners.

This article originally appeared in mental_floss magazine. Click here for a free issue!