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Secrets of New York

The ultimate insider's guide to the best-kept secrets of NYC's must-see places and buzzed-about people.

Rockefeller Center is home to NYC's iconic Christmas

Rockefeller Center is home to NYC's iconic Christmas tree. (Credit: Anthony Lanzilote)


Secrets of the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree

30 Rockefeller Plaza, New York 10112

When December rolls around, 'tis the season for the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree.

Since 1931 -- when construction workers building Rockefeller Center put up a tree -- locals and tourists alike have flocked to midtown Manhattan to bask in its glow and get into the yuletide spirit.

Below, amNewYork uncovers some hush-hush facts about its past and its present.

The 2018 tree, a 72-foot-tall Norway spruce that's

Credit: Tishman Speyer

This year's tree is from New York

The 2018 tree, a 72-foot-tall Norway spruce that's 75 years old and weighs almost 12 tons, came from Wallkill, New York. The donors, Shirley Figueroa and Lissette Gutierrez, were Bronx and Brooklyn residents before moving to Wallkill. They say they hope the donation helps bring "unity and happiness" to the city they once called home, according to Rockefeller Center.

Credit: Getty Images / Spencer Platt

The hunt for the following year's tree begins more than a year in advance

"It's an all-year process, where I'm constantly looking for trees to put on the list," Rockefeller Center's head gardener, Erik Pauze, said. "I go around and visit prospective trees. If you get a tree that's halfway decent looking, and you go visit it and it looks good in the picture but you get up close, and it's not, then you go around that area, because maybe the climate and the weather isn't too bad, so there may be another good one there."

It may come as a surprise to some

Credit: Tishman Speyer / Gabe Palacio

The tree is a donation -- no money exchanges hands

It may come as a surprise to some people, but Rockefeller Center does not pay for the tree, according to Pauze, who confirms, "the tree is a donation." Of course, Rockefeller Center's owner, Tishman Speyer, absorbs any costs associated with transporting it, but those who provide the tree are compensated with knowing the joy the tree gives everyone.

The tree gets recycled, but don't expect to

Credit: Habitat for Humanity

The tree won't go to waste after it's taken down

The tree gets recycled, but don't expect to see it in a blue recycling bin. Instead, it will be milled into lumber for a home to be built by Habitat for Humanity.

"We take it down, get it out of the plaza, and get it to a place in New Jersey," explains Pauze. "We mill it, then get it down to what's usable and kiln-dry it. You're not going to be able to build an entire house, but you'll get a couple of window or door frames. It's a pretty cool piece to have in your house."

Part of the 2014 tree was used in the construction of a house in Philadelphia. Another interesting tidbit: The wood is stamped "Rockefeller Center Tree" with the corresponding year.

Pictured: Lumber milled from the 2010 Rockefeller Christmas tree that was used to build this home in upstate Newburgh.

That's right: If the power goes out in

Credit: Bing Maps

Speaking of being eco-friendly, hundreds of solar panels power the lights

That's right: If the power goes out in Manhattan, don't blame the tree for draining the city's supply. Hundreds of solar panels atop Rockefeller Center, pictured, help power its lights. "There's a big electrical feed coming out of the basement connected to the tree and the panels," says Pauze.

The tree itself obviously doesn't stretch that far,

Credit: Getty Images / Brad Barket

The lights are on wire long enough to stretch from 30 Rock to Battery Park

The tree itself obviously doesn't stretch that far, but the wire that the 50,000 multi-colored, energy-efficient LED lights are strung on is more than five miles long. And getting that stunning, twinkling effect is no easy task: A computer program was created -- it took three months to build -- to get that magical look.

Long before the

Credit: NBC

The tree has been an NBC star since the 1950s

Long before the "Today" show crew began hosting "Christmas in Rockefeller Center," the tree kicked off its starring televised role on NBC in 1951, when the lighting was televised on the "The Kate Smith Show." And from 1953 to 1955, the tree lighting was part of the "The Howdy Doody Show."

Pictured: Bob Smith as Buffalo Bob Smith and Lew Anderson as Clarabell the Clown, during a televised taping of the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree lighting on "The Howdy Doody Show."

Like those who claim to have a

Credit: NBC

The tree must look good from all angles -- aka, be TV- and photo-ready

Like those who claim to have a "good side" and a "bad side," the tree must have no "bad side." Says Pauze: "I'm looking for a perfect tree that's going to look great in front of 30 Rockefeller Plaza. It's got to look good from all sides, because it's viewed from all the angles, like the Fifth Avenue side or when people come around the corner from Radio City Music Hall or when people come out of the subway. It's constantly on TV on the "Today" show, and the NBC special, so it's got to look good."

The tree will be topped with a new

Credit: Getty Images / Rob Kim

Revealed: The number of crystals behind the Swarovski star

The tree will be topped with a new three-dimensional star that's 9-feet, 4-inches in diameter. Weighing in at about 900 pounds, the star has 70 spikes and 3 million Swarovski crystals, according to NBC.

Blasphemy! A non-green Christmas tree may rub traditionalists

Credit: Getty Images

A non-green Christmas tree? It's happened -- but just once

Blasphemy! A non-green Christmas tree may rub traditionalists the wrong way, but, in 1949, Rockefeller Center opted to paint the tree silver, pictured, to make it look like snow, in light of the real stuff's absence.

Credit: Tishman Speyer / Gregory Scaffidi

Families who donate trees are part of the process, right through to the lighting

"They get invited down [to Rockefeller Center] after we cut the tree down, and they come down when we put it up, and they get to hang around that day," says Pauze of the families who donate the trees and who get front-row access to the tree lighting, elbow-to-elbow with other VIPs. "When we light it up, they hang around and get to enjoy the festivities." Pauze says he also occasionally stops by the homes of previous years' donators when he's in the area.

In 1966, Canada donated a white spruce, pictured,

Credit: NBC

1966 was a year of firsts: Think country of origin and distance traveled

In 1966, Canada donated a white spruce, pictured, from Petawawa Forest -- located 120 miles north of Ottawa, Ontario -- in honor of the country's 1967 centennial, making it the first and only time the tree was not U.S.-born. (Think of it as a Green Card holder. Get it?). The 64-foot evergreen traveled 550 miles to New York City, the longest trip for a Rockefeller Center Christmas tree. Does Pauze prefer a tree that hails from the United States? No. "I prefer a tree that is perfect and looks good in front of Rockefeller Center," he says.

One may think that at one point, a

Credit: Getty Images / Brad Barket

Two things the tree seems to be immune to: crime and bird snafus

One may think that at one point, a ne'er-do-well may have wanted to cause harm to midtown Manhattan's beloved tree, pictured in 2014. But, according to Pauze, it's never happened, thanks to top-notch, around-the-clock security. "I've been with Rockefeller Center for [more than] 28 years," says Pauze, "and I've never had any problems. There's a fence around it, and Rockefeller Center security is there." As for birds causing trouble and getting caught in the five-mile-long wire, they appear to mind their own business. "There are birds flying in and out all the time," Pauze says. "They fly in, they fly out."


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