It’s probably the most famous Christmas tree in the world, and very likely the most photographed. Simply, the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree is a NYC icon, and a custom that dates back to the 1930s, when Rockefeller Center was still under construction.
This year’s tree is being lit for the 2018 season on Wednesday, Nov. 28th, decorated with some 50,000 twinkling lights and topped by a brand new sparkling Swarovski crystal star.
Here’s a complete guide to the fabulous history of this fabulous NYC annual star that towers above the ice-skating rink and with the golden statue Prometheus and the Channel Gardens to one side, and the soaring 30 Rockefeller Plaza skyscraper behind it.
Fast Facts about the 2018 Rockefeller Center Christmas tree
Height: 72 feet
Weight: 24,000 pounds (estimated)
Species: Norway spruce
Hometown: Wallkill, New York, in the Hudson Valley
Age: Roughly 75 years
Date felled: November 8, 2018
Date put in place: November 10, 2018
Date of star raising: November 14, 2018
Date of tree lighting: November 28, 2018
Up until: January 7, 2019
Number of lights: 50,000+
Average number of expected daily viewers during holiday season: 750,000
Norway spruce is the top choice because of its characteristics of a straight trunk and the ability to resist wind. Also its size, since a mature Norway spruce can be 80 to 100 feet tall, which matches Rockefeller Center’s height requirements.
It takes Rockefeller Center gardeners a full year to find the perfect tree, which has to be at least 70 feet tall and with lush, even branches all around. You “shouldn’t be able to see the sky through it,” according to head gardener Erik Pauze, who often visits a tree several times over the year, just to make sure it’s the right choice.
Since 2007, the same LED lights are used each year, although their total number has grown from around 30,000 to around 50,000. The LED lights are also more energy-efficient than previous decorations.
The Swarovski-crystal star that tops the tree first appeared in 2004. This year, it gets a completely new design, reimagined by architect Daniel Libeskind for 2018. The new version has 3 million crystals, 70 glass spikes and, with a brightness of 106,000 lumens, may be powerful enough to turn night into day.
Those in charge maintain the tree with regular watering—as it’s outside, it retains its freshness better than it would in a house or apartment.
The inaugural tree lighting was broadcast on radio in 1933; 18 years later it made its televised debut on the Kate Smith Evening Hour.
After the tree is done spreading holiday cheer, it is cut into lumber to build new houses, with Habitat for Humanity.
Rockefeller Center Christmas tree through the years
1931 First Christmas tree on the grounds, put up by construction workers
1933 First official year of Rockefeller Center Christmas tree
1941 Four reindeer, in pens, flank the tree; later, they move to the Bronx Zoo
1942–44 Tree goes unlit due to World War II
1949 The tree is painted silver, ostensibly to make it look more wintry
1966 A white spruce hailing from Canada becomes the first tree from outside the US
1981 Last time a species other than a Norway spruce (in this case, another white spruce) is chosen
1997 Tree from Stony Point, NY, is transported by barge down the Hudson River
1999 Tallest tree ever, at 100 feet