The Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center has become an integral part of winter in New York City. No trip to NYC would be complete without a photo of this famous conifer in all its grandeur, surrounded by the magic of Rockefeller at Christmastime. Before you go, here are 15 fun facts about the Rockefeller Christmas tree that you can share with anybody within earshot–who’s the expert now?
1. It’s Always a Norway Spruce
Most of us don’t know the difference between a fir, a pine and a spruce tree–they’re all varieties of conifer. Since 1981, the Rockefeller tree has always been a Norway spruce, which grows to be more than 100 feet tall and 40 feet round if given enough time and space.
2. It Stands More Than 75 Feet Tall
Norwegian spruces can grow 2-3 feet a year for their first 25 years, under the right conditions, and they can live more than a century. The Rockefeller Christmas tree is always taller than 75 feet, which means it’s typically more than 35 years old. In fact, the 2017 tree was 80 years old!
3. A Scout Finds the Tree
Typically, Rockefeller Center’s head gardener, which is Erik Pauzé as of 2018, finds the tree by scouting nurseries and front yards throughout the tri-state area. People can also submit their tree for consideration through the Center’s website. Trees are chosen based on many criteria, including their ability to hold heavy ornaments and lights, and how close they are to the Christmas tree “ideal.” Because people look at the tree from every angle, it needs to be flawless on every side.
4. A Connected Family
The Torsilieri Landscapers from New Jersey have been responsible for the transport and setup of the tree for decades. Marc Torsilieri, one of three sons who inherited the business when their father died, was responsible for finding, cutting and reassembling the tree before his death in 2007. Another Torsilieri, Carla Torsilieri D’Agostino, published “The Christmas Tree at Rockefeller Center” along with Byron Keith Byrd–a book about the tree’s history.
5. Tree Donors Don’t Get Paid
The person or business that provides the tree does it for the honor, as they are not paid even a penny. They do, however, get invited to the Rockefeller Christmas tree lighting, where they enjoy a front-row view. Tishman Speyer, Rockefeller Center’s owner, picks up the cost of transporting the tree from its home to the Rockefeller Plaza, which is quite an undertaking considering the size of the tree.
6. One Tree Was Canadian
Canada donated a 64-foot white spruce in 1966, in commemoration of its centennial in 1967. The tree, which was located in the Petawawa Research Forest in Chalk River, Ontario, took an approximately 540-mile journey to its final destination. It was the only time the Rockefeller tree wasn’t from the U.S.
7. The Tree Topper Is New This Year
While a Swarovski crystal star has topped the tree since 2004, Swarovski commissioned architect Daniel Liebskind to design a new crystal topper for 2018. The new star, which is three-dimensional and uses 800 pounds of crystal (now you know why the tree has to be strong) will be revealed at the tree lighting in November.
8. There Are 7 Miles of Christmas Lights on the Tree
Since 2016, the Christmas tree has been strung with approximately 50,000 LED lights–and nearly 7 miles of electrical wire holding those lights! It’s come a long way since 1933, the first year there was a lit Rockefeller tree. Back then, the tree featured just 700 lights.
9. The Tree Uses Solar Energy
As you can imagine, powering 50,000 bulbs 24 hours a day for approximately five weeks (in 2018, the tree will be lit up from November 28-January 7) is a huge energy drain. In 2007, 363 solar panels were installed on Rockefeller Center, and the tree draws some of that power.
10. The Bulbs Have Evolved
The Rockefeller Christmas Tree’s lights have changed with the times, with fluorescent bulbs used at the end of World War II, icicle lights in 1953, and then incandescent bulbs until they were replaced by LED lights in 2007. In 2001, the tree featured red, white and blue lights to commemorate the tragedy of September 11th.
11. The Tree Is Recycled
Beginning in 1971, the tree was mulched after it was no longer on display. This resulted in 30 three-bushel bags of wood chips that were used on nature trails around the city. Since 2007, the tree has been milled into lumber, which is donated to Habitat for Humanity. The lumber is stamped with the year and “Rockefeller Christmas Tree”–a great conversation piece if it becomes part of your house!
12. Three Trees Have Come From Pennsylvania
In the last 60 years, three years featured trees that originated in Pennsylvania: 2011, 2014 and 2017, when a 75-footer from State College was given the honor. The 2017 tree had actually been spotted in 2010 by Rockefeller’s Pauzé when he attended a football game nearby, and he checked on the tree annually until it was deemed ready for primetime.
13. It Had a Humble Start
The famous holiday tree originated on Christmas Eve, 1931, when construction workers who were helping to build Rockefeller Center decorated a 20-foot balsam fir with paper garlands and strands of cranberries. The tradition of the “official” tree began two years later with a 40-footer that also had lights.
14. Millions of People Visit It in Person
In 2017, approximately 2.5 million people came to see the Rockefeller Christmas Tree in person. Millions more tuned in to see it during the tree lighting ceremony on NBC. If you visit NYC in November to see the tree lighting ceremony, be sure to plan for crowds.
15. Its First Television Appearance Was in 1951
Television was still in its infancy when the tree made its debut on the small screen, on “The Kate Smith Hour on NBC.” In 1997, NBC began broadcasting the tree lighting ceremony live, and in the years since, the event has grown to include popular musicians and other performers.