The Rockefeller Center Christmas tree acts each holiday season as a luminous magnet for camera-toting visitors. It towers above the ice-skating rink, with the golden statue of Prometheus near its apron, carrying on a custom as old as Rockefeller Center itself—starting back in the early 1930s when the Midtown complex was under construction.
The folks at Rock Center accept submissions each year. What do they look for in a specimen? A nicely shaped Norway spruce, at least 75 feet tall and dense enough that you “shouldn’t be able to see the sky through it,” according to head gardener Erik Pauze. Being from the tristate area generally helps—long distance is a consideration, but it’s not a deal breaker (1998’s edition was flown in from Ohio). The selection process takes a while, during which time the winner generally makes itself known. As Pauze says, “Sometimes I visit a tree several times over the year, [to] watch it grow or fill out. But when I see the perfect one, I just know it.”
Come late November, Today personalities Savannah Guthrie, Matt Lauer and Al Roker join a host of performers (including Neil Diamond and Dolly Parton) for the opening ceremonies, and the tree stays lit—and available for public viewing, selfies and Instagram posts—until early January 2017. Pining for more info? We’ll go out on a limb and guess you are. Here’s some tree trivia to keep you waxing botanic through the holiday season.
This year’s model
Height: 94 feet
Weight: 28,000 pounds
All-time rank, in size: 2nd
Species: Norway spruce
Hometown: Oneonta, New York
Age: Between 90 and 95 years
Date felled: November 10, 2016
Date put in place: November 12, 2016
Date lit: November 30, 2016
Up until: January 7, 2017
Number of lights: 50,000+
Average number of daily viewers during holiday season: 800,000
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
2016 Tony Bennett, at the age of 90, performs at the ceremony for the fourth time in seven years
* Why a Norway spruce? Our research indicates that its characteristics of a straight trunk and the ability to resist wind make it a sturdy choice, and its size, on average between 80 and 100 feet at full maturity, matches with Rockefeller Center’s height requirements.
* For the most part the same LED lights, which were first introduced in 2007, are used each year (though their total number has grown from around 30,000 to around 50,000).
* The Swarovski-crystal star that tops the tree first appeared in 2004 and is nearly 10 feet in diameter.
* 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’s sent on its merry way to be used as lumber for Habitat for Humanity.