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OpinionColumnistsMark Chiusano

For a brief moment, feel the holiday spirit at Rockefeller Center

The Rockefeller Center Christmas tree will be lit

The Rockefeller Center Christmas tree will be lit on Wednesday. For a few blocks, that means holiday cheer. Everywhere else, it is business as usual. Photo Credit: AFP/Getty Images / ANGELA WEISS

Looking for the holiday spirit in NYC can vary block by block.

The historic and traffic-creating Rockefeller Center Christmas tree is set to be lit Wednesday night. Holiday paraphernalia has popped up within what might be called the “Christmas Zone” a few blocks around Rockefeller Center: a smaller tree decorating the Lotte New York Palace, reindeers outside the News Corp building (no War on Christmas or political correctness on Sixth Avenue). There is green trim around the Cartier windows, carols blaring.

Things are a little less festive, though, if you’re looking to buy your own tree. The nearest place to do so might be the stand on Sixth Avenue north of 57th Street outside Merci Market. It’s less of a winter wonderland staffed by bearded French Canadians and more of an unattended rack outside a midtown deli. “Please pay inside the store,” a laminated sign says. “Tree price does not include the tree stand.”

Assistant Manager Maria Zarro says the store only has sold about eight since Sunday. The site is no hot spot and rarely needs more than a single resupply. Maybe it’s because the neighborhood’s not so residential. Instead, Zarro ponders, those visiting the area are mostly tourists or holiday merrymakers, like those thousands who will make it impossible to walk near the Christmas Zone Wednesday night.

Happy Holidays!

Holiday spirit, brought to you by giant crowds and heightend security

As always, New York will grit its teeth and gear up for the big seasonal show. The NYPD warns of street closures blanketing the blocks around Rockefeller Center for the lighting ceremony — from 46th Street to 52nd Street, between Fifth and Sixth Avenues. The zone will be flooded with officers from the NYPD’s Strategic Response Group, its Critical Response Command and counter-terrorism personnel, who will monitor an area traversed daily by more than half a million people at the height of the season.

The zone was dotted with concrete barriers and almost entirely lined with temporary metal fences on Tuesday, blocking the narrow sidewalks and making walking even more claustrophobic than usual. Setup for Wednesday’s ceremony was in full swing, with sound and lighting equipment being stacked around the skating rink.

When the tree lights go on, the crowds and millions of TV viewers will cheer, but until then there is something normal or even weary about the tree. Unlit, it has holes in places and looks overgrown in others, no platonic ideal of a geometric cone. The patchy gigantic plant on its own might be the one part of the Christmas Zone not yet ready for prime time. It looks more like the tired but hopeful trees that you might see at some unheralded street corner tree shop, picked up at the end of a long day and dragged home to try brightening the holidays — once the lights are plugged in, anyway.

A brief flicker

In a few weeks’ time, the decorations will come down. The city will be normal again, even in the Christmas Zone. The tree will meet its end, in the kind of quiet way that is fitting for its humble beginnings. Before 2007, some Rockefeller trees were used as mulch for the parks department or NYC zoos, according to a spokeswoman for Tishman Speyer, which owns Rockefeller Center.

In recent years, the trees have been donated to Habitat for Humanity as wood for homes around the region. But even the gigantic trees can only do so much: contributing to parts of a few homes, for example, including one project in Brooklyn in 2008. But their soft wood is no good for load bearing, says Bryan Thomas of Habitat.

So the tree lives on as lumber for decks or interiors or other non-structural roles, stamped with Rockefeller Center markings so the new occupants who traditionally help build their own houses know where the materials came from: the wood’s role the year before in Manhattan. As with the holidays outside the Christmas Zone, you won’t find the tree’s parts everywhere throughout the house, but in its humble role maybe it brings joy, briefly.

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