Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree Gets Cut Down Ahead of NYC Debut

There will be no public access to the tree arrival at Rock Center this year amid the pandemic, but details about how to visit it will be announced in the coming days

NBC Universal, Inc.

It's showtime for a small town tree soon to make its home at Rockefeller Center for the 2020 holiday season.

This year's tree, a 75-foot-tall, 11-ton Norway Spruce was cut down Thursday from a residence in the town of Oneonta and will be carted to New York City for what is sure to be an unusual winter. Donated by Daddy Al's General Store, it arrives in Manhattan by flatbed Saturday to be prepped for its illuminating global debut.

Erik Pauze, the head gardener at Rockefeller Center, says he had his eye on the tree when he was last in Oneonta in 2016 and this was the "perfect year to use it." His process of picking out the perfect tree is pretty simple.

"I'm looking for a tree that's gonna look great in Rockefeller center. One that's gonna stand up, have a nice Christmas tree shape like the one you want in your living room and look good," Pauze said Thursday ahead of the cutting.

Around 35,000 LED lights will be placed on the tree once it arrives in NYC and it will eventually be adorned with a dazzling star made of Swarovski crystals. The tree lighting will be televised on NBC on Wednesday, Dec. 2, starting at 7 p.m.

Don't worry, tree lovers. The giant tree will be recycled once the festivities end. It has been a tradition to donate the tree to Habitat for Humanity after the 2007 Rockefeller Center tree went to build a home in Pascagoula, Miss., for a survivor of Hurricane Katrina.


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"This year, we just feel the tree is vital," Tishman Speyer CEO Rob Speyer said, alluding to the coronavirus pandemic that has forced the cancellation of other holiday traditions like the Radio City Christmas Spectacular. Speyer said the company is "particularly proud to continue the joyous tradition this year."

This year, there will be no public access to the tree arrival at Rock Center due to the pandemic, but details about how to visit it will be announced in the coming days. It was not clear how the city plans to control crowd sizes as well.

Another annual favorite at the same location will be returning as well. The Rockefeller Center ice skating rink will open on Nov. 21, and will limit the number of people on the ice. The rink will also close far earlier in the season compared to other years, with Jan. 17 as its last day.

We’ve heard a lot of you asking about whether there would be a giant Christmas tree this year. Well now, some answers. Yes there is a tree and right now it’s in Oneonta, New York. The tall timber starts the 160 mile move to the big City on Thursday. Gus Rosendale shows us how the tree will help usher in the holidays and close out a year that’s changed us all.

It's estimated that more than 125 million people visit Rockefeller Center during the holiday season. But with tourism stalled amid the coronavirus pandemic, it's unlikely the usual holiday frenzy will appear this year.

Typical holiday staples, like Christmas Spectacular at Radio City Music Hall, featuring the high-kicking Rockettes, have been canceled while Bryant Park's Winter Village implemented new safety protocols to open last month. The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade will also have a whole new look to it, as crowds won't be able to view it in person but there will be a modified version to see on TV the morning of Nov. 26.

Kay Angrum and other guests give a behind the scenes look before the Rockefeller Center Christmas gets lit up.

Here are some historical facts about the Rockefeller Center Tree:

  • 1931 – Construction workers building Rockefeller Center put up a Christmas tree, the first-ever Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree.
  • 1933 - First formal Rockefeller Center Tree Lighting Ceremony. The tree was decked with 700 lights in front of the eight-month-old RCA Building.
  • 1936 - Two trees, each 70 feet (21.3 m) tall, were erected. For the first time the Lighting Ceremony included a skating pageant on the newly opened Rockefeller Plaza Outdoor Ice Skating Pond.
  • 1942 - Three trees were placed on Rockefeller Plaza, one decorated in red, one in white and one in blue to show support for our troops serving during World War II.
  • 1949 - The tree was painted silver, to look like snow.
  • 1951 - The Rockefeller Center Christmas tree was lit for the first time on national television on the Kate Smith Show.
  • 1966 - The first tree from outside the United States was erected. It was given by Canada, in honor of the Centennial of its Confederation. This is the farthest distance a tree has traveled to Rockefeller Center.
  • 1980 - For the 50th Anniversary of Tree Lighting, a 70 foot-tall (21.3 m) Norway Spruce came from the grounds of the Immaculate Conception Seminary of Mahwah, N.J. Bob Hope participated in the Lighting.
  • 1999 – The largest tree in Rockefeller Center history, 100 feet tall (30.5 m), came from Killingworth, Conneticut.
  • 2004 – The Swarovski-designed star became the largest star to ever grace the tree.
  • 2007 – For the first time, the tree was lit with energy-efficient LEDs. They draw a fraction of the power that had been traditionally required by the tree, reducing energy consumption from 3,510 kwH to 1,297 kwH per day, saving as much energy as a single family would use in a month in a 2,000 square foot (185.8 m²) home. Hundreds of solar panels atop one of the Rockefeller Center buildings help power the new LEDs.
NBC New York's Gus Rosendale reports.
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