3. Uptown at christmas
Given it’s Christmas Eve, I’d be remiss not to note my abiding and borderline obsessive love up Christmas and one of my top 10 favorite things about New York- our annual pilgrimage to see the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree.
New York, like Chicago, really does Christmas exquisitely. The streets are decked with lights and the sidewalks filled with Christmas trees being sold by the Christmas tree vendors, and everywhere there is a feeling of excitement and joy. But my absolute favorite journey in New York is the one to see the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree. Yes, it is crowded and filled with tourists, but that is also what is so incredibly magical about it. We live in a place everyone else dreams about one day seeing, and we make it worth their while with the most fantastic tree any city has ever seen.
For years I went either alone or with friends or colleagues; it was always an incredible time. Now that I’m married, my husband- if not, happily, then with all the enthusiasm he can muster- makes it a special day to remember. Last year, we started with dinner at the Peninsula, followed by a stroll down to the tree, where we we knocked dead in our tracks by the musical lightshow Saks put on across the way. Afterward, we took a brisk walk up the Palace to see their tree, which is smaller but no less gorgeous. This year’s was a daytime affair and considerably more crowded, but it was absolutely breathtaking and a reminder of just how incredible New York is at this time of year.
The Rockefeller tree is a longstanding tradition in New York, dating to 1931. I found this picture of the first tree erected there with the accompanying text by Time, which is absolutely fascinating.
“Today it’s a multimillion-dollar extravaganza that attracts thousands of tourists every year, but the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree hasn’t always been so glamorous. On Christmas Eve 1931, with the nation mired in the Great Depression, a group of construction workers erected a 20-ft. tree on the muddy site of what would become one of the city’s greatest architectural and commercial monuments. Despite their grim faces, the men had cause to celebrate. Unlike most of their colleagues, they were about to get paid. (Notice the wooden crate at the foot of the tree and the clerk behind it dispensing checks.) Two years later, a Rockefeller Center publicist organized the first official tree-lighting ceremony.”
Humbler beginnings indeed. Other notable mentions of the tree’s history:
In 1942, Rockefeller Center unveiled 3 small trees versus one large one, in patriotic red, white ad blue. These trees were the first to be replanted after the holiday season.
In 1944, keeping with wartime blackout regulations, the trees at Rock center, like every other tree in the city, were mandated to remain unlit. After the war’s end in 1945, organizers made up for previous years of darkness by using six ultraviolet light projectors to make all 700 fluorescent globes on that year’s tree appear to glow in the dark.
Finally, Rockefeller Center recycled its first Christmas Tree in 1971, turning it into 30 three bushel bags of mulch for the nature trails of upper Manhattan.
In 2005, the wood from the Rockefeller Center tree was used to make door frames for Habitat for Humanity homes in New York, Louisiana, India and Brazil!
I love this beautiful time of the year and no other emblem of this season is so clearly marked in my memory or in the city’s than this beautiful tree. It’s such a lovely experience to go and see it and a great excuse to get uptown and feel the vitality of the city at Christmas.
And with that, the merriest of Christmases to all of you! I will be back after the holiday to finish this trip down memory lane, and share some more immediate memories of our time in Boston (where we are currently) and LA, where we are thrilled to be headed on Monday!
Love to all of you (and Joy to the world),