25 Festive Facts About the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree
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The Rockefeller Center Christmas tree is the world’s most famous Christmas tree. Each year, millions of visitors from around the world travel to New York to admire the magnificent tree as it towers over ice skaters in the center of Rockefeller Plaza.
In case you ever wondered how much the Rockefeller Christmas tree costs or what happens to the Rockefeller tree after Christmas, look no further! Here are 25 festive facts about the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree.
A much anticipated event is the official Christmas tree lighting at Rockefeller Center which traditionally happens around December 1st in the evening hours from 7PM to 9PM. Entry is free, however, access is granted on a first-come, first-serve basis and lines are typically long. In case you can’t make it, make sure to turn on NBC to watch the Christmas tree lighting at Rockefeller Center live (see fact 10).
Nearly 125 million people visit the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree each year and more than half a million people pass by the tree each day.
The Rockefeller Center Christmas tree is traditionally lit by the Mayor of New York City.
The first Christmas tree lighting at Rockefeller Center took place in 1933.
How much does the Rockefeller Christmas tree cost? Well, it depends. The actual tree is a donation and you’d be surprised by how many owners are willing to donate their gem to Rockefeller Center. If it wasn’t a donation, a tree of that size would cost around $20,000. After a tree has been selected (see fact 6), Rockefeller Center’s owner, Tishman Speyer, covers transportation expenses. It’s not reported how much that is but we assume it’s in the ballpark of $5,000 to $10,000. Once installed and wrapped in LED lights, the tree is worth nearly $75,000. Adding the Swarovski crystal star, it’s worth at least $1.5 million.
Rockefeller Center’s head gardener, Erik Pauzé, is in charge of scouting and selecting the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree and he’s been doing this job for decades. He’s also in charge of planning and looking after the transportation of the tree. Some trees have already been selected years prior, before being cut down and moved to their new home in Midtown Manhattan.
Even the transportation of the tree to Rockefeller Plaza is a huge event. This happens around mid-November and from the moment the tree has arrived, visitors can witness each step of the installation. Once the Swarovski star and all the LED lights are in place, the tree will be covered up until the official Christmas tree lighting at Rockefeller Center takes place.
In 2020, a little owl was found in the tree upon its arrival at Rockefeller Plaza. It was wrapped up in the tree’s branches during the three-day transportation and received the fitting name “Rocky.” A wildlife center took care of it and released it in Saugerties, a small town in Upstate New York.
What happens to the Rockefeller tree after Christmas? Don’t worry, it won’t get tossed on the curb. Once the tree has been taken down, it’s milled, treated, and turned into lumber. Each tree gives about 100 boards which are donated to the non-profit organization “Habitat for Humanity.” The organization then uses the boards to build homes for families in need.
On average, 6.5 million people watch the Christmas tree lighting at Rockefeller Center on NBC each year. Considering its primetime competition with the NFL games, that’s not too bad! The live broadcast lasts about two hours and offers a top entertainment program with many festive performances.
Due to the pandemic, 2020 was the only year in which the Christmas tree lighting at Rockefeller Center happened without an audience.
It’s one of the most photographed Christmas trees in the world. Open Instagram, TikTok, YouTube or Twitter in December and you’re being served with the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree without having to scroll too far. It’s just too beautiful to not share!
The tree, typically a Norway spruce, must meet Rockefeller Center’s height requirements to be considered for selection. A tree can be anywhere from 65 feet to 100 feet tall but the preferred height is between 75 feet and 90 feet tall.
Talking about height, the tallest Rockefeller Christmas tree ever was the 1999 tree which was a record 100 feet Norway spruce from Killingworth, Connecticut. 2016 saw the second tallest tree, which was a 94 feet giant. Last but not least, another tree from the 90s makes the list. The 1996 tree is the third tallest Rockefeller Christmas tree and was a 90 feet tall showstopper.
Since 2004 it’s been tradition that a Swarovski star tops the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree. Currently, a 900-pound Swarovski crystal star adorns the top of the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree. The star was introduced in 2018 and designed by renowned New York architect Daniel Libeskind. It features 70 spikes covered in 3 million Swarovski crystals and measures 9-foot 4-inches in diameter. Swarovski officials did not reveal the price of the star but its estimated value is between $1.5 and $3 million.
The magnificent tree usually remains on display until the first week in January. Read fact 9 to learn what happens to the tree afterwards.
The Rockefeller Center Christmas tree can be visited at any time, however, the tree is illuminated only from 5 AM to 12 AM. On Christmas Day, the tree remains lit for 24 hours. Good to know, on New Year’s Eve the lights are switched off around 9 PM.
There are 50,000 multi-colored LED lights wrapped around the tree. The energy-efficient LED bulbs are solar-powered and strung on 5 miles of wire. The LED lights cost approximately $13,500.
Following World War II and the September 11 attacks, the tree was decorated in red, white and blue, to symbolize patriotic unity.
In 2007, Rockefeller Center installed 363 solar panels to support the tree’s electricity consumption of roughly 1,297 kWh per day!
Since 1955, the fountains of the Rockefeller Center Channel Gardens are turned off during the holidays and instead feature twelve wire-sculpted angels that face the tree. They are 8 feet tall and each figure weighs about 50 pounds. It takes about 10 hours to install the illuminated angels. Tip: you can get the best pictures of the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree by positioning yourself in between the Channel Gardens (see image above).
Did you know? The tree’s biggest competitor for eyes is right across the street – the Saks Fifth Avenue Holiday Light Show. Each year, the luxury department store transforms the building’s facade into a magic castle, made up of thousands of LED lights dancing to holiday music. The first Saks Fifth Avenue Holiday Light Show of the day starts around 4:30 PM and happens every 10 minutes until approximately 11:30 PM. A show lasts about 5 minutes.
If you can’t get enough of the sparkling giant, you can stay at one of the many nearby hotels that offer spectacular views of the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree. For example, the Radisson Hotel New York on 5th Avenue and the Jewel Hotel are so close to Rockefeller Plaza, that you can see the tree from their terraces. Another plus point is that you can admire the tree without being surrounded by large crowds.
Rockefeller Plaza wouldn’t be the same without the iconic ice skating rink, simply called “The Rink,” over which the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree towers. The Rink opens in early November and the ice skating season lasts until mid-April of the next year. General admission, including skate rental, starts at $11 but depending on day and time, a ticket can cost up to $78.
Many visitors are also planning on visiting the Top of The Rock observation deck, while they are in the vicinity. It’s one of our favorite observation decks, however, we strongly recommend you buy your tickets online in advance. During the holiday season we’ve seen endless lines in front of the entrance. Also, if you decide to visit, make sure to bundle up!
Now you know everything there is about the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree. We hope these facts were as interesting to you as they were to us. Let us know in the comments, what the most jaw-dropping fact was for you! For example, we couldn’t believe that in 2020 a little owl was found in the tree when it arrived at Rockefeller Center.
In case you’re visiting the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree this year, make sure to tag us in your Instagram posts. We’d love to see, and maybe even feature, your best shots! Also, subscribe to our YouTube channel to stay in the loop for Christmas updates from New York.