Rockefeller Center Tree Lighting: What You Need to Know Before You Visit

UPDATE: Thousands of Lights Flick on as Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree Is Lit

The Rockefeller Center tree is set to be illuminated Wednesday in a festive ceremony, but spectators should expect some security restrictions, be aware of street closures and prepare for possible rain. 

NBC 4 New York will begin airing a live hour of the special beginning at 7 p.m. before the primetime NBC telecast of "Christmas in Rockefeller Center," from 8 to 9 p.m. Watch Live on Your TV or Mobile Device.

Storm Team 4 says it will be cloudy Wednesday with periods of rain, and it's possible it may still be a little damp with light showers during the tree lighting. 

But visitors won't be allowed to bring umbrellas, and backpacks and large bags are also prohibited, according to the NYPD. 

Police also say the following streets will be subject to closures from 3 p.m. until after the lighting ceremony: 48th, 49th, 50th and 51st streets between Fifth and Sixth avenues. 

Traffic is expected to be heavy around Rockefeller Center and Radio City Music Hall from 3 p.m. through 11 p.m., and drivers should avoid the area, police said. 

Visitors can expect to see highly armed officers guarding the area only as a precaution and not out of any credible threat, Police Commissioner Bill Bratton said Tuesday.

"It's there really to make people feel more secure. We're asking them to be aware but to enjoy and feel safe. We'll worry about security, they should just enjoy themselves," he told NBC 4 New York.

The 83rd annual holiday extravaganza will feature a 78-foot tall Norway Spruce from the Ulster Coutny town of Gardiner. It is approximately 80 years old, weighs about 10 tons and will be adorned with 30,000 twinkling holiday lights.

The tree will be illuminated by 45,000 multi-colored LED lights on 5 miles of wire. This year marks the 12th year a Swarovski star has topped the tree.

"Today" anchors Matt Lauer, Savannah Guthrie, Al Rocker and Natalie Morales will host the broadcast, and there will be performances from Sting, Mary J. Blige, Andrea Bocelli, The Band Perry, Andy Grammer, Carly Rae Jepsen, Pentatonix, Band of Merrymakers, and James Taylor, featuring world-renowned trumpeter Chris Botti. The evening will also include a special performance by the Rockettes.

The tree will be lit every day from 5:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. until Jan. 7., except for Christmas, when it will be lit for 24 hours and New Year's Eve, when it will be lit until 9 p.m.

After it goes down, the tree will be milled into lumber for Habitat for Humanity.

Follow NBC 4 on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter for exclusive behind-the-scenes video and photos from the lighting ceremony.

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, Conn.
  • 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.UPDATE:UP
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