Italian American workers quietly began a New York City tradition on Christmas Eve 1931 when they decorated a tree on the construction site of Rockefeller Center. The twenty foot tall balsam fir was adorned with strings of cranberries and paper garlands made by their families. It was here on a cold Depression era night that they lined up to collect their paychecks.
Little did they know that this act of cheer would inspire generations of travelers like myself to make the pilgrimage to the city for a glimpse of what is now a landmark.
The first official tree went up two years later and an ice skating rink opened in 1936. This year’s tree is an 82 foot tall Norway Spruce from Queensbury, New York. It positively glows under 50,000 LED lights and a Swarovski crystal tree topper.
The trees are always handpicked and come from all over the country. Trucks, cranes and scaffolding are required to transport, place and decorate the annual tree which is dedicated with an official lighting ceremony the Wednesday after Thanksgiving.
Seeing the holiday decorations was the main point of going to New York at Christmas and this iconic tree didn’t disappoint. However, I would note that going on a Saturday in December wasn’t ideal because there was an absolute crush of people in all directions through the touristy areas like Rockefeller Center.
I’m not a big fan of crowds but this was one of those “when in Rome” moments where I tried to just appreciate the experience for what it was. We would have loved a closer view but it really didn’t seem worth fighting the crowds for a different angle.
They estimate that 125 million people visit each year and it felt like about 25 million of them were there Saturday night.
I wondered later what it would be like really late at night or just before sunrise. Is it just as bad? I can’t help but wonder what it would be like in Rockefeller Center at daybreak.
Perhaps another time.
Meanwhile, I’ll be grateful to those construction workers some 91 years ago for thinking to brighten their worksite with a beacon of hope and holiday cheer.