The Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree has become a worldwide symbol of the holiday season. The lighting on the Wednesday after Thanksgiving is celebrated with live musical performances at Rockefeller Plaza and broadcast across the globe and Internet.
What’s the story of this tree? Worldwide Weird Holidays investigates.
Gardiner, New York has one less resident today: a 10-ton, 78-foot-tall Norway Spruce we’ll call Bruce. Bruce comes to us courtesy of a very large saw and the Asendorf family, who’d enjoyed his company on their front lawn for over 40 years. After nearly chopping him down for firewood last year, they contacted Rockefeller Center’s head gardener and chief Christmas tree hunter, Erik Pauzé. He visited, liked what he saw and Bruce’s fate was decided.
On Friday, Bruce was cut down and loaded with the help of a 280-ton hydraulic crane and fifteen giant-tree specialists onto a custom-made telescoping trailer which can stretch to 100 feet and accommodate a tree up to 125 feet tall, although the width of New York City streets limits the height to 110 feet.
Bruce was then bound like Gulliver and taken from his home in the middle of the night, traveling toward New York City on a route carefully plotted by a committee of local and city planners, under the watchful eye of a police escort.
Once at the Rockefeller Center, the same crane that had loaded him onto the trailer was used to fix Bruce into place by skewering his trunk onto a steel spike. Guy wires were attached to Bruce’s midsection to hold him upright and scaffolding was erected to assist workers in draping him with over 30,000 lights strung on more than five miles of electrical wire. Since 2007, the tree has been “green” (evergreen?), using LED lights.
Bruce will have a fabulous, if hefty, headpiece. In 2004, the old fiberglass star decorated with gold leaf was replaced by the Swarovski Star, designed by German artist Michael Hammers. It weighs 550 pounds, is 9.5 feet in diameter and sports 25,000 crystals with a million facets. In 2009, Hammers decided to upgrade the star’s lighting system by adding 720 tiny white LEDs and 3,000 feet of wire to the star’s interior, which were then connected to 44 circuit boards.
That’s a lot of look.
Although the official Christmas tree tradition began in 1933, the year 30 Rockefeller Plaza opened, the practice began during its Depression-era construction, when workers decorated a smaller twenty-foot-high balsam fir tree with “strings of cranberries, garlands of paper, and even a few tin cans” on Christmas Eve of 1931, according to Daniel Okrent’s Great Fortune: The Epic of Rockefeller Center.
In the photo above, construction workers receive their paychecks next to the Christmas tree they’d set up on the Rockefeller Center site. Pauzé estimates from the number of tree rings that Bruce is approximately 80 years old, so he was likely a sapling in 1931.
If you’d like to see Bruce get lit up like a, well, you know, make your way to Rockefeller Plaza between West 48th and 51st Streets and Fifth and Sixth Avenues a little before 9 pm. Expect a lot of company, many security restrictions and possible rain.
You won’t be allowed to bring umbrellas, backpacks or large bags, per the NYPD. The streets surrounding Rockefeller Center will be closed from 3 pm until after the ceremony. Highly armed officers will be patrolling the area–only as a precaution, not because of any credible threat, according to Police Commissioner Bill Bratton.
“It’s there really to make people feel more secure. We’re asking them to be aware but to enjoy and feel safe. We’ll worry about security. They should just enjoy themselves,” he said Tuesday. Okay then.
Bruce will be lit until midnight tonight, then from 5:30 a.m.-midnight daily and is expected to receive up to 750,000 visitors per day. On January 6, 2016, his lights will be doused forever at 8 pm and the process of removing him from his final perch will begin.
His remains will be donated to Habitats for Humanity. Those who benefit will never know how famous their house’s sturdy timber once was. I’d like to think that’s how Bruce would have wanted it.