All About the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree

The Lighting Ceremony, Hours, and Tree Details

Marvin E. Newman/The Image Bank/Getty Images

The Rockefeller Center Christmas tree is a world-renowned symbol of the holidays in New York City. The free tree lighting ceremony is open to the public. The ceremony includes live performances that entertain bystanders packing the city streets, sidewalks, and walkways leading up to Rockefeller Plaza and the millions of viewers watching it live on television.

The 2018 tree will be lit for the first time on Wednesday, November 28 at Rockefeller Plaza. The tree will remain lit and on display on the plaza between West 48th and 51st Streets and Fifth and Sixth Avenues until 9 p.m. on January 7, 2019. Each year, thousands crowd the sidewalks for the event and millions watch the live broadcast.

Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree
TripSavvy / Ashley Nicole DeLeon

Lighting Ceremony

The annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony is televised and features musical performances from a variety of popular artists. Typically, the Radio City Rockettes perform and there are also ice skaters performing at the Rockefeller Ice Rink.

There is no charge to attend the ceremony which is available on a first come, first served basis. Streets around Rockefeller Center are blocked off for the event starting at 3 p.m. The best way to get there is via subway and to walk to the Center from the station. Since the tree is located in front of 30 Rockefeller Plaza, the places within view of that area will be crowded and it's recommended to arrive early, as early as 2 p.m.

The tree is visible from the streets surrounding the ice rink and from the pedestrian walkway in the Channel Gardens. Another small area is the part of 5th Avenue between 49th and 50th Streets.

The performances will take place in front of the Prometheus Statue in the lower concourse square. For the best view get there mid-day and try to get in the first several rows along the perimeter of the ice rink.

Illuminated Hours

The Rockefeller Center Christmas tree is typically illuminated from 5:30 a.m. until 11:30 p.m. and until 9 p.m. daily, except on Christmas and New Year's Eve. On Christmas, the tree is illuminated for 24 hours and on New Year's Eve the lights are turned off at 9 p.m. On the last day, January 7, the tree will be lighted until 9 p.m.

Details About the Tree

The Christmas tree that adorns Rockefeller Center is typically a Norway spruce. The minimum requirement for the tree is that it must be at least 75 feet tall and 45 feet wide in diameter, however, the manager of Rockefeller Center gardens prefers the tree be up to 90 feet tall and proportionally wide.

The Norway spruce that grow in forests do not typically reach these proportions, so the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree tends to be one that was ornamentally planted in a person's front or backyard. There is no compensation offered in exchange for the tree, other than the pride of having donated the tree that appears in Rockefeller Center.

More than five miles of lights are used to decorate the tree every year. Only the lights and the star decorate the tree. After the holiday season ends, the tree is milled, treated, and made into lumber that Habitat for Humanity uses for building a home.

Prior to 2007, the tree had been recycled and the mulch was donated to the Boy Scouts. The largest portion of the trunk was donated to the U.S. Equestrian team in New Jersey to be used as an obstacle jump. Currently, the tree is donated to Habitat for Humanity. The tree is milled, treated and made into lumber that is used for home building.

The Christmas tree is a tradition that dates back to 1931 when Depression-era construction workers erected the first tree on the center plaza block, where the tree is now raised every year and is one of many special Christmas trees in New York City.

Location and Subways

Rockefeller Center is located in the center of the complex of buildings between 47th and 50th Streets and 5th and 7th Avenues. For an illustrated view of the neighborhood, including the attractions nearby, check out the Rockefeller Center map.

The closest subway trains to Rockefeller Center are the B, D, F, M trains, which stop at 47-50 Streets/Rockefeller Center, or the 6, which goes to 51st Street/Lexington Avenue.

More to Do at Rockefeller Center

Once you visit the tree you may want to grab a bite to eat. There are places to have a simple sandwich or enjoy a cocktail with a view at Bar SixtyFive at the Rainbow Room on the 65th floor of 30 Rockefeller Plaza. With windows soaring 10-feet high and 30-mile views to the North, West, and South, Bar SixtyFive provides a stunning view of Manhattan. There's plenty to do, see and eat in the Rockefeller Center neighborhood.

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