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125 million people visit Rockefeller’s Center Christmas Tree every year

Tis the season for history (always) and usually our posts are about hidden histories. Things you can’t see, or have to look for, or that have been left out of your textbooks. But this one’s the opposite of hidden–you can see it, crystal clear, Swarovski crystal clear, every December in NYC. Let’s rewind…

90 years ago, New York City construction workers pushed through a dismal holiday season. It was the Great Depression. Instead of holiday cheer, there was poverty, unemployment, and anxiety. It was 1931, and the long-anticipated construction of Rockefeller Center had just begun.

The workers on the project, determined to celebrate, unveiled a 20-foot balsam fir tree in the middle of the construction site. They covered it with cans, berries, paper decorations–whatever their families could cobble together–and suddenly, it was the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree.

Today, 125 million people visit Rockefeller’s Center Christmas Tree every year. It’s iconic, recognized across the globe. But not everyone knows it’s history. So, let’s make you the expert, with five fast facts. You ready, show-off?! Ho, ho, ho!!

  1. The skating rink was a 1936 addition. So this mighty tree had only been a tradition for 5 years when NYC decided it was a Big Christmas Deal.
  2. 1942 was a little different because the war was raging. Large trees were potential raw material for military efforts, which meant they couldn’t be used for holiday decor. So instead, Rockefeller Center unveiled 3 smaller trees–decorated in little painted stars, red, white, and blue, instead illuminated gloves. Through the end of the war, the tree would remain unit due to blackout regulations.
    1. In 1945, they used a giant ultraviolet light projector to make it look like the ornaments were glowing, celebrating the end of the war.
    2. In 2001, following the September 11th tragedies, the tree would be decorated exclusively in red, white, and blue again.
  3. In 1951, the tree lighting was televised for the first time on the Kate Smith Show. Suddenly, it was to be seen by an exponentially larger audience. To get it ready for its close-up, 20 workers took 9 days to refine its decorative details. The tree lighting has been televised every year since then (happy 70th, folks!)
  4. Rockefeller Center Christmas trees have retirement plans, too! The tradition to recycle and repurpose them started 50 years ago, when the Tree was turned into mulch and spread across hiking trails uptown. Now, the tree retires an housing insulation! Is this the most excited you’ve ever been about insulation?! Us, too!
    1. Talk about reduce, reuse, recycle – the twinkling lights on the tree are LED to save electricity; they also receive power from the solar panels on the top of the Rockefeller Center Buildings (bet you didn’t know those were there!)
  5. In 2018, a 9.5-foot star made of 3 million Swarovski crystals, debuted on the top of the tree.

Okay, Rudolph-the-red-nose-Historians – make sure you and 11 of your closest friends tag us on Instagram @insideouttours in your Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree selfies!