NBC New York
Thousands of spectators begin to pour into the Rockefeller Center Plaza hours before the Christmas tree is set to light up. Pei-Sze Cheng reports.
Joy to the World -- the spruce is lit!
Neil Diamond, Cee Lo Green and the Radio City Rockettes joined hundreds of thousands of people on the plaza at Rockefeller Center Wednesday for a night of performances that culminated with the lighting of a 74-foot Norway spruce from Pennsylvania.
The program for the world famous tree-lighting began at 7 p.m. and Mayor Bloomberg helped flip the switch to illuminate 30,000 lights two hours later as a choir sang "Joy to the World."
"It just brought so much joy to me," said Cynthia Hodge of Bronx. "Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas!"
Young Brando Ortiz of Queens couldn't contain his excitement about seeing the tree light up: "It was like a rainbow," he said.
The Christmas tree was cut down in Mifflinville, Pa., where the Keller family had been tending to it for years on their property.
Debra Keller told NBC New York Wednesday evening before the lighting, "It's just a surreal moment... We come in every year, we shop, we go for lunch, and we always end up at Rockefeller Center and say, 'Wouldn't this make a great tree?' And here we are."
Her mother Nancy said of their day at Rockefeller Center: "We have been treated like royalty. Everyone has been so nice to us!"
Some 250,000 people were estimated in attendance and 11 million viewers were expected to take in "Christmas in Rockefeller Center" broadcast live on NBC.
The crowds, combined with President Obama in town for a series of fundraisers, made for a massive midtown gridlock for much of the evening.
Obama attended three evening fundraisers: one at a private residence where tickets begin at $10,000; one at the Greenwich Village restaurant Gotham Bar and Grill at $35,800 per ticket; and a reception at the Sheraton Hotel, where tickets begin at $1,000.
At the Sheraton, Obama was greeted by Occupy Wall Street protesters, who had gathered at Bryant Park ahead of a planned march. They said they were angry the president was entertaining the so-called 1 percent to collect campaign funds.
As Obama traveled between events, traffic was locked down, causing a mess for drivers. The president left New York City shortly after 11 p.m.
At Rockefeller Center, crowds thinned quickly after the official lighting.
An army of gardeners will take care of the tree, watering it every day with a giant fire department-style hose.
The lights will be on until Jan. 7. After that, the Christmas tree will be turned into lumber for the housing charity Habitat for Humanity.
This is not the tallest tree to stand in Rockefeller Center -- that honor goes a 100-foot tree in 1948.