Rockefeller Center: Lights Shine on the World’s Most Famous Christmas Tree

A tradition that originated in 1931 from the workers constructing the towers.

The Rockefeller Center in New York never ceases to amaze with its ability to attract more and more visitors, especially during the year-end holidays when it stands out globally with its iconic Christmas tree. The tree is adorned with over 50,000 multicolored LED lights and topped with a Swarovski star. While not the tallest tree overall (some attribute that record to a town in Louisiana, others to Seattle in the state of Washington, or to Dortmund in Germany), it is certainly the most visited, celebrated in cinematography and shared on social media.

This year, the 12-ton, 80-foot (24 meters) Norwegian red spruce comes from Vestal, a town to the north in the state of New York. It was selected by the Rockefeller organization from among many candidates. “In Vestal, we are proud; the tree has a perfect shape, is 80-90 years old, and deserves to be the Christmas tree of the Americans,” said Tony Zostant and Janice Slack, two locals, to the Twin Tiers local broadcaster. The tree will remain illuminated until January 13, 2024.

Rockefeller Center Christmas tree: a tradition born on a work site

The tradition of celebrating the Christmas tree dates back to 1931 when, during the Great Depression, Rockefeller Center workers pooled their money to buy the first Christmas tree—a 20-foot balsam fir adorned with homemade garlands and placed at the base of the under-construction towers. The iconic photo of those workers is accompanied by other black and white images that have become part of the historical heritage of the architectural complex. The most famous has just been recreated this year to offer new experiences to visiting tourists.

Indeed, the new attraction, opened in December and already heavily booked, is named “The Beam,” replicating the 1932 photo “Lunch atop a Skyscraper.” It features eleven workers sitting on a steel beam, hundreds of feet above the ground during their lunch break. The photo, suspected to be taken with an angle creating a sense of void while being at eye level, serves as another excellent publicity stunt for the Rockefeller Center.

Visitors sit on a replica of that steel beam, located on the 69th floor. They are then lifted 12 feet (3.6 meters) above the Top of the Rock Observation Deck, one of the most visited observation centers globally, and rotated 180 degrees, offering splendid views of Central Park and Manhattan.

“The idea of creating The Beam so that people could feel directly connected to that iconic photo really fascinated us,” said EB Kelly, senior managing director of the Rockefeller Center, during the presentation ceremony. Of course, visitors are seated in chairs welded to the beam and secured with safety belts. The “ride” does not extend into the void, following its path always above the observation deck, but the sensation is as if suspended at 800 feet (245 meters) above the ground.

Buildings and major infrastructure illuminated for Christmas

For enthusiasts of Christmas splendor with the lighting of buildings, squares, and even complex infrastructures, New York is a must-visit. The city boasts two million lights illuminating the new constructions of Hudson Yards or the highly anticipated year-end show at Times Square. The illuminated ball drops from the highest pole of One Times Square, accompanying the countdown to the new year, marked by a overflowing crowd on the street and hundreds of millions of viewers worldwide for a celebration that has become truly global.

On the other side of the world, in Sydney, Australia, the show considered the most impressive fireworks display in the world takes place. Fireworks are launched simultaneously from the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge, allowing them to celebrate the arrival of the new year 16 hours ahead of New York.

The orchestra of lights, as in Sydney, reproduces illuminated celebrations with a thousand colors in every corner of the planet. This is thanks to scenic LED installations in new constructions like the International Gateway Bridge in Long Beach, California, built by Webuild in 2020, and in iconic structures like the Eiffel Tower. Over the years, Paris has replaced its original lighting with an energy-efficient system of spotlights to celebrate the holidays in a sparkling yet sustainable manner.