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10 Fascinating Facts About the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree

Category The List

|by ShowTickets Editors |

Did you know? Here are 10 juicy discoveries about the world’s most famous Christmas tree

The Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree is here! For top viewing tips, check out our handy guide.

The Rock Center Tree goes way back, to 1931. Two years into the Great Depression, the workers building the vast new Rockefeller Center complex were so grateful for their jobs that they pooled together enough money for a 20-foot balsam fir, decorated it with strings of cranberries and paper garlands and even lined up next to it receive their paychecks. Two years later, at the official opening of the center, it was a far grander affair, which ever since, has only gotten more spectacular with each passing yuletide.  Now in its 85th year, the New York City icon has grown tall not only in stature, but also legends and amazing facts, including these ten.

The 2013 Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree sparkles in Midtown (Photo: iStock)

The 2013 Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree sparkles in Midtown (Photo: iStock)

1. The Rockefeller Christmas Tree is nearly always a Norway spruce, and as the name suggests, is not native to the United States. This year’s tree is no different, but comes from State College, Pennsylvania.

2. Weighing 12 tons, standing at 75 feet tall, this year’s spruce is the average height for a Rockefeller Christmas tree. The tallest ever to stand in Rockefeller Plaza was in 1999, when a tree from Killingworth, Connecticut, topped out at 100 feet.

3. To get the massive tree into Midtown Manhattan without enraging the car horns of millions of New York drivers, it’s brought in a night with a police escort. How it gets to New York in the first place depends on where it’s coming from. This year’s tree was brought in on flatbed trucks, but past trees have been floated down the Hudson and even flown (from Ohio in 1998) in on the world’s largest transport plane.

4. If anything puts the rock in Rockefeller Plaza, it is the 550-pound Swarovski star atop the tree. With 25,000 crystals, one million facets and a 9.5-foot diameter, its value remains a carefully guarded secret but estimates pin it to more than $1.5 million. To make the twinkle extra special, the 1,024 programmable channels were installed to control light movement.

5. Stretched out, the cord connecting the 45,000 multi-colored lights wrapped around the tree would reach five miles, only one less than the entire perimeter of Central Park. To power them all, some of the energy is drawn from hundreds of solar panels atop Rockefeller Center. For just the right twinkle, a special computer program was custom built in three months.

6. Put a big tree up in downtown New York and inevitably a few will try to climb it. The most notable was 27-year-old George Young, who clambered to the top and began shouting "Free the 50!" for a full hour and half in protest of the American hostages held at the U.S. embassy in Iran. Eventually police were able to convince him that climbing a tree would do nothing to speed their release. Try to clamber up the branches today and the heavy security might have something to say about it.

7. The Rockefeller tree is an extremely thirsty one. In the first week alone it sucks up 90 gallons of water each day, and this is after the 1,700 gallons of water and 800 gallons of "compost tea" – liquid soaked in compost – it was doused with every two weeks since becoming a candidate in May. Once planted, the amount lessons to nothing, as the tree stays robust by absorbing the water from the chilly, wet winter air.

8. Although people can see the lights every day until January 7, the only day the lights are kept on for 24 hours is Christmas. For several years during World War II, there was no light at all on the Rockefeller tree, instituted (above Mayor LaGuardia’s protests) as a security measure against German attack. That doesn’t mean there was no color or spirit, though, as the three trees, which stood from 1942 to 1944, were each decorated in red, white, or blue.

9. Unlike your tree, the Rockefeller tree can’t simply be kicked to the curb once the holidays are in the rear view mirror. Instead, the Christmas carcass is donated to Habitat for Humanity to repurpose into homes for the needy, a tradition begun in 2007 when the owner of Rockefeller Center, Tishman Speyer Properties, donated that year’s 84-foot Norway to construct a new home for a survivor of Hurricane Katrina survivor. For many years, the stump of the tree was donated to the US Equestrian Team to use as an obstacle jump for horses.

10. In the holiday season, up to 750,000 people visit the Rockefeller Christmas Tree each day (a bonus for nearby attractions), so to get up close and personal, aim for colder days when the crowds are thinner. The best view remains from the ice of the skating rink just underneath, but if that’s too cold (or leggy), a seat near the window in the next door Sea Grill is your best bet.

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