The other day I was watching a Christmas movie on Hallmark and the subject of the Rockefeller Tree came up. It was explained that during the depression the construction workers for the Rockefeller Center decorated a small tree with decorations made from their families. So, of course, wanting to learn more about history, I started looking it up.
And so the story begins.
The date: 1933
The building: 30 Rockefeller Center
On the land that John D. Rockefeller Jr leased from the Columbia University, construction of the Rockefeller Center began. The original building to be built on that land was an opera house, however, the cost of the opera house would need some help from donations from the University and Mr Rockefeller Jr; despite the support of Mr Rockefeller the construction of the opera house was canceled in December of 1929. This began the negotiations with RCA, NBC and RKO to build a mass media complex.
The date: 1933
The celebration: The Tree
Beginning in 1933 the unofficial tradition of decorating the tree starts during the construction of the Center and right in the middle of the Depression. Workers started by decorating a 20′ Balsam Fir with paper garlands, strings of cranberries and tin cans on Christmas Eve. Just two years late the tiny tree was replaced with the lighting of a 50′ tree becoming the “Holiday Beacon for New Yorker’s & Visitors Alike” and in 1936 the now famous skating rink was added.
WWII brought in the use of more patriotic decorations of red, white, blue and stars and in 1943 instead of one large tree, it was replaced with three smaller trees, donning one color of the flag on each tree. Sadly, in 1944 & 1945 due to black out restrictions the tree was unable to be lit and stayed dark for those two years. Never fear! After the war ended, the tree received a make over and was highlighted with ultraviolet light projectors making it look as if the trees globes were glowing in the dark.
The 1950’s brought larger trees and workers using scaffolding to decorate and taking nine days and 20 workers to complete the decorating process. That’s a LOT of lights! Finally, in 1951 NBC televised the tree lighting and has remained a Christmas tradition since. The 1960’s brought the beautiful Herald Angels (designed by Valerie Clarebouts) to the Channel Gardens near Fifth Ave.
1999 brought the tallest tree, a 100′ Spruce; whereas in 2006 the second tallest, a mere 94′, the heaviest (weighing in at 30,000 pounds (just where did they find a scale that went that high?)) and widest at 56′ wide. That’s a LOT of tree!!
You know that Star which sits on top of the tree? Well, that’s a Swarovski Star designed by German artist Michael Hammers. The star weights 550 lbs, is adorned with 25,000 crystals, 1,000,000 facets, is 9.5 ft wide and since the tree has gone green since 2007, the star uses 1,200 fewer kilowatts per day which is enough to power a 2,000 sq ft house for a month! (HONEY! Don’t look at the lighting bill)
While this tree may have started to lift the construction workers spirits it is now seen as “from the beginning … a gathering place and reflection of what was happening in the world around it” and “world-wide symbol of Christmas.”
If you are ever in NYC during Christmas time, remember to take a photo of a historical icon and spend a few hours at the skating rink!
Never worry about the size of your Christmas tree. In the eyes of children, they are all 30 feet tall.
**these photos are not all mine, no copy write infringement meant**