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Look Back at Rockefeller Center Christmas Trees through the Years – from 1931 to Today

Christell Fatima M. Tudtud
Jan 10, 2021
02:20 P.M.
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Spectators are treated each year to beautiful holiday displays at the Rockefeller Center in New York City. Its most famous holiday display, of course, is the Christmas Tree.


Every year, thousands flock to the Rockefeller Center in New York City to witness its awe-inspiring displays for the holidays. The lighting of its Christmas Tree, an eight-decade-old tradition, has been a highlight for many revelers.

While still basking in the holiday spirit, let's take a look at the evolution of the center's Christmas trees through the years, starting in the 1930s until today.

A tall building stands at the Rockefeller Center in New York City. | Photo: Pixabay


The 1930s

The lighting of the Christmas tree at the Rockefeller Center was a simple occasion back in the early 1930s. A famous photo taken in December 1931 shows workers gathered around a 200-foot high balsam fir.

The workers chipped in money to set up the Christmas tree, which they decorated with handmade garlands, which their families made themselves. Little did they know their effort would turn into an annual Christmas tradition.

By 1933, the center decided to make the setting up of a huge Christmas Tree an annual tradition. It was this year as well when the very first tree lighting ceremony was held.


The 1940s

In the early 1940s, the Rockefeller Center downgraded its annual Christmas tree lighting tradition due to the ongoing World War. Its website states:

"World War II ushered in an era of simple and patriotic designs, including red, white, and blue unlit globes painted wooden stars."

In 1942, three smaller trees were raised instead of the usual large one. No lighting ceremony was held until the end of the year because of blackout regulations.


The 1950s &1960s

With the war already over, the tradition at the Rockefeller Center only became grander. By the 1950s, 20 men had to be hired to set up the Christmas Tree and hang its decor, which now took around nine days to complete.

In 1969, the Center collaborated with renowned sculptor Valerie Clarebout, who installed towering wire angel figures in the Channel Gardens. The 12 sculptures had 75 points of metal wire each.

The Star dazzled spectators from around the world with its three million sparkling Swarovski crystals adorning its 70 triangular spikes.


The 1990s & 2000s

In constant search of the perfect Christmas Tree, the Rockefeller Center had a tree from Richfield, Ohio, flown to New York City in 1998, via the world's largest transport aircraft, the Anatov An-124 Ruslan.

The following year, another tree was transported from Killingworth, Connecticut. At 100 feet tall, it was the largest Christmas Tree in the Rockefeller Center's history.

In 2004, the Center splurged on the Tree, which has become America's Christmas Tree, with a 550-pound Swarovski Star placed on top. The expensive 9.5-diameter decor featured 25,000 crystals and one million facets.


The 2010s & 2020

One of the most remarkable changes to the Tree during this decade was the installation of another Swarovski Star, which was designed by renowned architect Daniel Libeskind.

The star dazzled spectators from around the world with its three million sparkling Swarovski crystals adorning its 70 triangular spikes.

For 2020, a 75-foot Norway spruce from Oneonta, New York state, has been erected at the Center. It was mocked by many because of its sparse decorations and stowaway owl, but "Today" co-anchors Savannah Guthrie and Hoda Kotb came to its defense.