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The (Virtual) Lighting Before Christmas

By Luisa ColónDec 1 2020

The first Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree went up in 1931, a 20-footer garlanded modestly with handmade decorations. The Tree two years later featured 700 lights. Since then, the tradition has grown. Not just as an event, but in actual size. This year’s Tree is a 75-foot-tall, 11-ton Norway Spruce from Oneonta, New York, that will be lit up by 50,000 multicolored LED lights. And a surprise was found hidden among the branches: a tiny owl, who has since been dubbed “Rockefeller,” immediately became a part of New York folklore. (After inspiring bobbleheads, Christmas ornaments, and the city’s adoration, little Rockefeller was relocated to a wildlife center in the Hudson Valley, before being returned to the wild.)

So, to recap so far: The 2020 Tree’s arrival has made its usual headlines and Rockefeller has stolen New Yorker’s hearts. And on Wednesday, the lighting ceremony for the 88th Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree will take place. Although the public won’t be able to watch the event in person (in accordance with Rock Center’s careful adherence to safety protocols), “Christmas in Rockefeller Center” will be broadcast live on NBC, featuring the lighting of the Tree and performances by the Radio City Rockettes and artists such as Dolly Parton and Gwen Stefani.


As per the usual New York moxy, Tree viewing will not only prevail despite the pandemic, but also adapt to keep holiday spirits bright (and safe). On Thursday, although the public will be permitted to visit the Tree, the live tree cam will debut online, so that you can admire the Tree from the safe distance of your own couch. (The Tree beaming into your living room will set the scene for Christmas morning better than a virtual fireplace.) By the way, the Rink at Rockefeller Center is open, with social distancing measures in place.


Across the U.S., people are adapting to these unprecedented times so that the holidays remain festive and traditions are honored. Santa Clauses are doing virtual meet-and-greets with kids. Families are planning virtual get-togethers. And so here in New York, online and in-person visitors to Rock Center will still have the opportunity to see the Christmas Tree sparkle. The season may be looking different this year, but the Tree is still a bright light for the holidays ahead.

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