The Rockefeller Christmas Tree and Christmas Tree History

For the last several decades, the most famous Christmas Tree in America has been the Rockefeller Christmas Tree in New York City. The first tree was placed by workers while it was still under construction, but the first official tree was presented in 1933, after 30 Rock, as the center is called, opened. The official National Christmas Tree has been set on the White House Grounds since 1923, and an inside tree has been in the White House every year since the mid-1800s.
The 2011 Rockefeller Christmas tree was donated by the Keller/Crawford family from Mifflinville, PA, oddly enough, seen by Rockefeller gardener Erik Pauze on his way to the tree he previously thought would be the 2011 tree (maybe next year!) The 75 year-old Norwood Spruce is 46 feet in diameter and 74 feet tall, and features 45,000 LED lights spread on about five miles of wire. On top, there is a Swarovski Crystal Star with 25,000 crystals and a million facets. The star was originally designed in 2004 and has been redesigned several times since then for a more dynamic twinkle.
The tree lighting was on Wednesday November 30th, and is open until January 7, 2012. The regular hours are fron 5:30 AM until 11:30 PM, and all day Christmas. How did we get to the point where a million people will come to New York to see the official lighting of America’s most viewed Christmas Tree? It started about 570 years ago…. In the 1440’s the ‘Brotherhood of Blackheads’ erected what is probably the first official Christmas Tree. They were basically a single men’s club in Livonia (present day Estonia and Latvia) who “went with a flock of maidens and women, first sang and danced there and then set the tree aflame,” according to Balthasar Russow, a well-know chronicler of the era later wrote. Simply put, it was a party. Within one hundred years, the Christmas Tree tradition had spread to what we now call Germany where they decorated the trees with apples, nuts, dates, pretzels, paper flowers and other festive items. The trees were considered a social event, being placed in public squares and other areas where the entire community could join in festivities. Some of the very wealthy (Protestants) included trees in their homes, in part as a snub to the Catholic tradition of keeping cribs (a basic Nativity scene) in their homes. By the early 1800s, more homes began including their trees, starting in Germany, or possibly with German immigrants who came to Lancaster, Pennsylvania (who claim the first Christmas Tree in 1821) or the German settlers in Easton, PA reportedly setting up the first tree in 1816. Then again, it could have been the unnamed Hessian (German) captured soldier in 1776. Christmas became an official Federal holiday by President Ulysses S. Grant, in an attempt to unite north and south after the Civil War, in 1870. Prior to that, it was an event celebrated in churches and very localized. By this time, Christmas Trees were in many American Households and were very carefully lit up by small candles in the trees. Melted wax was used to keep the candles on the branches. In the early 1900s, special candle holders were used; and by 1914 small lanterns had replaced the candles, although still at significant fire-risk. Edward H. Johnson, an associate of inventor Thomas Edison, had Christmas tree light bulbs especially made for himself. He proudly displayed his Christmas tree, which was hand-wired with 80 red, white and blue electric incandescent light bulbs, about the size of walnuts, on December 22, 1882 at his home on Fifth Avenue in New York City, making him the father of electric Christmas Tree lights. In 1895, U.S. President Grover Cleveland sponsored the first electrically lit Christmas tree in the White House, which featured about 100 multi-colored lights. It took several decades (about 1950) before most American homes had electricity, and the lights were inexpensive enough, enabling the wide use of electrical lights like we have today.
Backstage from the NBC Broadcast Area

Backstage from the NBC Broadcast Area


The First Rockefeller Christmas Tree - 1931