It’s not officially the holiday season until the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree arrives, which it did early Saturday morning. Hailing from Vestal, New York, the 80-foot tall, 43-foot wide Norway spruce was cut down on Thursday and transported some 200 miles to Rockefeller Plaza in Midtown Manhattan. It took a flatbed truck and a crane to place the 12-ton tree on its perch next to the ice-skating rink.
The entire venture is costly, but it’s a quintessential New York City tradition known round the world, bringing untold joy. You can’t put a price on that! The first tree dates back to 1931—it was a “gift” from some of the workers on site at the Depression-era construction of Rockefeller Center. Grateful to be employed, they pooled their money and bought a 20-foot balsam fir, which they decorated on Christmas Eve with paper garlands and strings of cranberries their families made. Wages were handed out under the tree.
It wasn’t till two years later that Rockefeller Center established the yearly tradition: erecting a 50-foot-tall evergreen, decorating it with some 700 lights, and organizing a tree-lighting ceremony.
The tree itself is donated each year—fortunately, since estimates for this year’s tree alone put it at a cost of upwards of $70K. Also luckily, Rockefeller Center’s corporate owner, Tishman Speyer, absorbs the massive cost associated with transporting the tree each year.
While delivering such an enormous tree is a feat all its own, decorating it is another. Lighting the tree is the main event. LED lights have been used since 2007. It was certainly an eco-friendly move, considering the number of lights has gone up over the years from 30,000 to the current 50,000. That’s approximately 5 miles of wire to adorn a tree this size. The electric bill was more than cut in half with the shift to LED bulbs, as the energy consumption went from 3,510 to 1,297 kwH per day, about as much as a 2,000-square-foot home pays for electricity in a month.
While the strings and strings (and strings!) of colored lights aren’t cheap, the real cost of sprucing up the tree is in the labor. Hundreds of workers are hired, including around 20 electricians, and the process is incredibly labor-intensive. It involves putting up scaffolding, which takes 2 full days before the adorning can even begin. And it ends with the crowning of a gorgeous 9-foot, 900-pound star covered in 3 million Swarovski crystals, designed by architect Daniel Libeskind in 2018. Some have estimated the star would cost $1.5M.
Engineers, carpenters, gardeners, and a variety of other workers are also involved in everything from safely securing the tree to keeping it looking lush and beautiful into January. According to head gardener Erik Pauze, that’s about 90-gallons of water a day.
And as it is every year, it will all be worth it come the Wednesday after Thanksgiving—that’s the annual official date for the tree lighting, which this year is November 29. The ceremony is broadcast all over the world and includes performers and other celebrities. The tree remains at Rockefeller Plaza through early January and is expected to have something like 750,000 visitors a day this year. As of 2019, more than a half a million people passed by the tree every day, according to Rockefeller Center data. But don’t let the numbers scare you. The joy is contagious—and an in-person visit to the Rockefeller Christmas Tree is priceless.