Considered an iconic part of the holidays in New York City, the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony is a public-wide event that brings even people from other countries. During the celebration, the streets are packed with bystanders watching the performances that stretch out across walkways leading to the Rockefeller Plaza. These performances entertain not only the 125 million people that visit the attractions every year but millions of people watching them live on television all over the world as well.

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Last 2017, the tree was first lit on November 29, 2017 (Wednesday) and was there until 9:00 PM of January 7, 2018. In 2018, the tree is scheduled to be lit on November 28 (Wednesday), and will be open to the public from 5:30 A.M. to 11:30 PM daily until January 7 next year. The tree is located between 48th and 56th Streets along Fifth and Sixth Avenues.

About the Lighting Ceremony

The annual lighting of the tree is televised and features various performances from music and other popular artists. Frequenting the performances as the Radio City Rockettes as well as some ice skaters entertaining audiences at the Rockefeller Ice Rink.

Lighting Hours

As per tradition, lighting hours run from 5:30 in the morning until midnight. The only exception to this is Christmas and New Year’s Eve. During Christmas Eve, the tree stays lighted for 24 hours while it is turned off at around 9:00 PM on New Year’s Eve.

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About the Tree

Being the center of this world-famous annual event, the Christmas Tree that graces the Rockefeller Center adheres to certain standards. For instance, it’s normally a Norway spruce that stands up to at least 75 feet in height and 45 feet in diameter. But that’s just the minimum. Usually, the person who manages the Rockefeller Center gardens doesn’t usually settle for something less than a 90-foot tall tree. This demand, however, is hard to comply with, given that the Norway spruce growing in forests don’t usually grow to be that large. What they do instead is take a tree that was planted in someone’s backyard. One interesting fact is that these trees are usually taken with no compensation other than the sense of pride to have it featured at the Rockefeller Center.

Decorating a tree this big would entail Christmas lighting that would stretch out to five miles, plus a star. These are pretty much the only decorations allowed on the tree.

What happens to the Tree After?

When the festivities are over, the tree that was used will be taken down for milling and turned into lumber that’s used for Habitat for Humanity’s building projects. That was the practice since 2007. Before that, the tree would be recycled and the trunk would be sent to New Jersey for the U.S. Equestrian Team to be used as an obstacle jump. The mulch would be donated to the Boy Scouts.

When did this tradition start?

The practice of putting up the Christmas tree goes back to the 1930s during the Depression era. Construction workers decided to put up the first tree on a plaza block - the same spot where the tree is seen now every year.

Other Famous Christmas Trees in New York

Origami Christmas tree - Located at the American Museum of Natural History, this tree was the AMNH’s way of celebrating the season. It’s open to the public from November to January.

MET Museum Christmas Tree - Also on display from November to January, the Metropolitan Museum Art’s Christmas tree is seen with the Neapolitan Baroque crèche. The tree is 20 feet tall and featured Neapolitan angels and cherubs from the 18th century. It also features a nativity scene at the base.

The Divine Peace Tree - The Cathedral of St. John has a Christmas tree that’s decorated with over a thousand paper cranes and other symbols of peace. The decoration process even involves children who want to take part of a workshop to learn how to make these paper cranes. Those who want to see the tree can take a tour of the cathedral while they’re there to learn more about the pre-Christian origins of the Christmas season as well as the different ways the holidays are celebrated at the Cathedral. They normally put up the tree just after Christmas.

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Tree at Park Avenue - If you happen to be at the Upper East Side during the holidays make it a point to pass by 54th and 97th Streets along Park Avenue to check out the beautiful Christmas trees that light up the malls. They started doing this way back after World War II to remember those who had lost their lives to the war. The tree is also considered a symbol of peace.

Lincoln Square Christmas Tree - Head over to the Upper West Side to check out the Annual Winter’s Eve Festival held at Lincoln Square, which is commenced with the lighting of the tree in Dante Park. The lighting is then followed by all manner of festivities that run along Broadway.

Tree at South Street Seaport - Together with the South Street Seaport Museum, the South Street Seaport puts up a tree within the new Seaport Square. In 2017, the new ships Ambrose and Wavetree featured their own decorated trees.

NYSE Christmas Tree: A tradition since 1923, the NYSE Christmas Tree found at 11 Wall Street is lighted every year on November 30, starting a celebration filled with performances from entertainers like the Radio Rockettes and Harlem Globetrotters.

Bryant Park Holiday Tree: The Norway spruce at Bryant Park features approximately 3,000 custom decorations and 30,000 LED lights. The lighting of this 55-foot tree starts at 6:00 PM of December 1 and features a number of musical and other performances as well. People can also stop by the Winter Village to do some shopping.

New York is a pretty lively place during the holidays, so make sure you stop by some of these places if you happen to be around during the season.