Friday, 16 December 2011

Cranberries, Garlands & Tin Cans

On December 24, 1931, with America immersed in a recession, a group of Rockefeller Center construction workers spread some Christmas cheer:  they erected a 20-foot-balsam fir tree, and decorated it with cranberry strings, paper garlands and tin cans.

In 1929, John D. Rockefeller Jr. had acquired 22 acres of land in Manhattan between 5th and 6th Avenues which he began to develop (it would eventually include 19 buildings).  The Empire State building had opened the same year.  Radio City Music Hall, also at Rockefeller Center, would open a year later on December 27, 1932.  That year, there would be no Christmas tree.  However, in 1933, New Yorkers began the tradition of a yearly Christmas tree with an official tree lighting ceremony.

The tree, always a Norway Spruce, hailed from several states including New York, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, New Jersey, Vermont, and even one province, Ontario (the year of Canada's Centennial).  The tree's height could be as low as 70 feet or as high as 100 feet, as was the case in 1999.  Even during World War II, with shortages, New Yorkers still enjoyed a Christmas tree; however, there were no lights in 1944 due to the imposed blackout.  Although the first tree had primitive decorations, in the 1950's, New Yorkers saw 10 foot aluminum icicles dangle precariously from the tree.  By the 1970's, they started recycling the Norway spruces, in the form of mulch.  Later, they donated the trees to the Boy Scouts and Habitat for Humanity.  By the 1980's, 18,000 lights decorated the Christmas tree. 

Today, 30,000 lights and 5 miles of wiring help to light up the Norway Spruce.  The brilliant star which adorns the top weighs 550 pounds and spans 9.5 feet.  It's been 80 years since New Yorkers first gazed at a Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center.  The construction workers have been replaced by businessmen with briefcases walking to their offices and tourists with tuques gliding across the skating rink.  Merry Christmas, New York!

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