A towering Norway Spruce from Shelton, Conn., is in the spotlight (quite literally) this holiday season. The 76-foot-tall, 12-ton tree has pride of place in Rockefeller Center as this year’s Christmas beauty and will remain lit until Jan. 7, 2014. What makes the appropriately 75-year-old tree shine? That would be 45,000 multi-colored LED lights and a Swarovski star that’s 9 1/2 feet wide.
The holidays in New York City have become synonymous with the sparkling Rockefeller tree, and history has a lot to do with it: The first tree went up in 1931, during the Depression, when it was erected as a symbol of hope. In 1933, the first formal Rockefeller Center Tree Lighting Ceremony was held. The elegant evergreen was decked out with 700 lights in front of the eight-month-old Art Deco RCA Building, now called the GE Building or, more colloquially, 30 Rock. (Thank you, Tina Fey.)
Since then, the tree has blazed with many different colors, including red, white and blue in 1942 to show support for the troops serving during World War II. Also, plenty of celebrities have participated in the tree-lighting, from Bob Hope during the tree’s 50th anniversary to, more recently, actresses Blake Lively and Olivia Wilde. This year’s celebration saw Mary J. Blige, the Goo Goo Dolls, Jewel, Mariah Carey and Leona Lewis perform. Mayor Michael Bloomberg flipped the light switch this year just before 9pm on Dec. 4, 2013.
Of course, the tree may crown Rockefeller Center, but the surrounding plaza is equally colorful: toy soldiers and angels brighten the walkways, holiday carols fill the air and Salvation Army volunteers jingle their bells. And, ice-skaters twirl on the famous rink, which is presided over by the gleaming, gold-leaf Prometheus statue.
Don’t fret about the tree’s end. After its Rockefeller Center career is over, the tree will be milled into lumber for Habitat for Humanity projects.
Viewing Tips: The tree draws anywhere from 350,000 to 750,000 people … a day, so prepare for a crowd. That said, there’s a lot of movement , so be patient in working your way to the front, and you will get your picture-perfect snap. You’ll also need your patience if you want to wait in line to skate. Weekdays are less crowded, and earlier in the day is better from a crowd perspective, but the glimmering lights will have less of an effect in daylight than at night. As you might expect, the more frigid the weather, the fewer people there will be willing to brave the chill. Above all, don’t drive — public transport is your friend. A variety of trains will get you to the action: B, D, F, V to 47-50th St. Rockefeller Center; N, R to 49th St., 1 to 50th St., 6 to 51st St.
Nearby Shopping: There are plenty of shopping opportunities nearby, but just be aware that shops on the plaza such as the LEGO store will be standing room only. At nearby Saks Fifth Avenue, there is a view of Rockefeller Center and the tree from Cafe SFA on the eighth floor. See more shopping tips in our Department Store Survival Guide and check out our NYC Holiday Department Store Window Guide for the best of this year’s displays.
Nearby Restaurants: Bill’s Bar and Burger might be our favorite nearby eat for its expansive dining room and tasty burgers under $10, but we’ve got four more ideas for Dining Around Rockefeller Center.
Santas: If you’re trying to squeeze a visit to Santa into your NYC itinerary, check out 9 Top Places to See Santa, including tips on visiting the standard-bearer of Santas at Macy’s.
Click here to read more about great ways to celebrate the holidays in New York City, and don’t forget to check out our deals and discounts for tours, cruises and shows this holiday season.