New York Christmas: Behind the scenes at top holiday sights

Get a peek behind the curtain at beloved New York Christmas sights, from the city’s most famous Christmas tree to a holiday-window tribute to Al Hirschfeld

0

Comments

Add +

Behind the scenes at the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree


A yuletide tradition since 1931, the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree remains one of the city’s biggest holiday draws. (And we mean big literally—it’s 76 feet tall and weighs around 12 tons, and that’s before a 550-pound star is installed on top.) This year’s tree has been festively twinkling since December 4, but the process of getting it to NYC and ready for the holidays stretches back much further—and happens in full view of the public. Take a peek at the slideshow below to see how it all comes together.


  • Photograph: Stuart Ramson / courtesy Tishman Speyer

    The hunt for each year’s tree begins in February: Rock Center’s head gardener scours the entire Northeast to find the perfect specimen. “The tree has to be at least 75 feet tall, it’s always a Norway spruce, and the perfect shape is about 45 to 46 feet wide,” says Keith Douglas, managing director of Rockefeller Center. “One of our litmus tests is that you shouldn’t be able to see the sky behind it. That means it’s a really full tree.”

  • Photograph: Gregory Scaffidi/Courtesy Tishman Speyer

    Once a tree is selected, it’s chopped down and driven to New York City on a special truck built to accommodate its substantial heft. And like a Christmas turkey, the evergreen is trussed from top to bottom, ensuring its safe arrival in the city. “The tree needs to be less than 13.5 feet in diameter once it’s trussed in order to make it under the bridges into Manhattan,” explains Douglas.

    This year’s conifer comes from Shelton, Connecticut, and is estimated to be about 75 years old.

  • Photograph: Gregory Scaffidi/Courtesy Tishman Speyer

    To prop up the tree, a crew must first install a large spike into its trunk. Then, a crane lifts the enormous spruce into place atop a base built specially for it. Finally, the whole thing is secured with four wires radiating from the middle of the tree to supports around Rockefeller Center. These precautions not only keep the tree erect, but ensure that it’ll stay put during nasty winter weather. 

  • Photograph: Jenny Evans

    In the weeks leading up to the lighting ceremony, crews wrap the tree with nearly 50,000 twinkly LED lights lights and add this giant topper. For the past ten years, Rockefeller Center has used a star made by Swarovski—encrusted with 25,000 crystals, it clocks in at 550 pounds.

    “The star raising is quite a feat unto itself,” notes Douglas. It usually happens about a week after the tree is set in place, in order to utilize the scaffolding that’s already been built to make installing the lights easier. A crane raises the topper to the tree’s highest point; it’s then placed atop a cone cap and bolted into place.

  • Photograph: Jenny Evans

    By the time Thanksgiving is over, it’s time do a test run of the tree’s lights. “One of the most magical moments is when we do the test, and you have the crowds already at Rockefeller Center, and you hear this audible gasp!,” says Douglas with a laugh. “Unfortunately, we have to turn the lights off relatively quickly, and then there’s that ‘Awww.’ ”

    We don’t have to tell you that the area around the tree gets stupid crowded, but the actual visitor counts might make your claustrophobia flare up. According to Douglas, normal weekday attendance at Rock Center during the year is around 350,000. On a holiday weekday after the tree is lit, that number jumps to 500,000; and on weekends during the holiday season, as many as 750,000 people per day visit the plaza.

Photograph: Stuart Ramson / courtesy Tishman Speyer

The hunt for each year’s tree begins in February: Rock Center’s head gardener scours the entire Northeast to find the perfect specimen. “The tree has to be at least 75 feet tall, it’s always a Norway spruce, and the perfect shape is about 45 to 46 feet wide,” says Keith Douglas, managing director of Rockefeller Center. “One of our litmus tests is that you shouldn’t be able to see the sky behind it. That means it’s a really full tree.”

The Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree is at Rockefeller Plaza between 49th and 50th Sts, and Fifth and Sixth Aves (rockefellercenter.com). Daily 5:30am–11pm; free. Through Jan 7.


Users say

0 comments