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The Christmas tree in New York at Rockefeller Center is arguably the most famous Christmas tree in the city, and its lighting is celebrated at the free Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony in New York. After the ceremonial opening, the Christmas season in New York officially begins!
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In New York, the opening of the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center right after Thanksgiving marks the official start of the holiday season.
In recent years, we haven’t had great luck with the weather, but the lighting ceremony still attracts countless people every year. Most visitors only know the tree from movies like „Home Alone 2 – Lost in New York“, so it’s very impressive to stand in front of it in person. The Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center is therefore a highlight for many at Christmas in New York.
The lighting of the Christmas Tree at Rockefeller Center is one of the absolute highlights of the Christmas season in New York. The Christmas Tree attracts 500,000 visitors per day (!). Everything you need to know about this great event, you can find out here!
My tip: If you want to avoid the crowds, you can attend an exclusive tree lighting party with views of the tree.
When is the Rockefeller Tree Lighting Ceremony?
The ceremony takes place the Wednesday after Thanksgiving, which is the third Thursday in November. This year, the Rockefeller Center Tree Lighting Ceremony falls on December 1st. The ceremony starts around 6:30 pm but the tree won’t be lit until 9:55 pm. Usually, at the moment of the lighting, a general hush descends upon the masses gathered to view the event (a rarity in New York City), followed by thunderous applause. And the applause is warranted – the tree is a sight to behold.
Where will the opening of the Christmas tree in New York take place?
Directly in front of Rockefeller Center, the largest Christmas tree in New York will be opened, which is on 5th Avenue between 49th and 50th Streets. You can expect not only the first “switching on” of the lights, but also a real event with live broadcast on TV, jolly atmosphere and definitely a lot of fun!
At what time will the Christmas tree be lit?
The opening ceremony starts at 6:30 pm. The Christmas Tree at Rockefeller Plaza is the most popular photo motif in New York during the Christmas season!
Until when can you see the famous Christmas tree?
My tip: You want to stay close to the Rockefeller Christmas Tree? Check out my list of the Best Hotels near Rockefeller Center!
Is it possible to see the Christmas tree for free?
After the famous Tree Lighting Ceremony at Rockefeller Center, you can also view the Christmas tree for free at any time. I think it’s especially nice if you combine that with a visit to the popular ice skating rink right in front of the tree. It’s just awesome and just as cheesy as it sounds, it is – but in an extremely positive way!
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Best Tours to experience the Rockefeller Christmas Tree
Opening of the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center
The Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center is set up and decorated several weeks before – but it really isn’t lit until the official Tree Lighting Ceremony. Really every New York visitor who is in the city between December and early January visits the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center. The tree is the absolute star in Manhattan for this period. In the days that follow, it is dismantled and, thanks to Habitat for Humanity, processed so that it can be used to build houses for those in need. After that, it’s back to waiting until the next Christmas season in New York.
Around 8:00 p.m. New York time, the time has usually come. The huge Christmas tree in New York finally shines in its full glory. Usually there is absolute silence on the plaza for a moment – a rarity in New York City – but this is generally followed by thunderous applause. And rightly so, because the Christmas tree in New York at Rockefeller Center has nothing to hide. Beautiful and sparkling, it decorates the plaza every year.
Sparkling and beautiful, it is the centerpiece of the Plaza every year. Our tip: if you would like to witness the lighting of the tree at Rockefeller Center, be sure to get there no later than 3 pm with the ceremony starting at 7 pm. Every year, the crowds get bigger. You won’t be able to see the tree if you’re only an hour or two early. If you want to see the tree and be part of the ceremony, expect to wait outside in the cold for hours.
About the Tree Lighting Ceremony
It’s the spectacle of the holiday season. Many people travel great distances to New York City just to attend the Tree Lighting Ceremony in person. It’s a dream come true and over the years, it’s become a bigger and bigger event that features many performances. The tree lighting ceremony lasts for about 3 hours, starting at around 7 pm and ending around 10 pm. Here’s what you need to know if you want to attend the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony:
Is the Rockefeller Tree Lighting Ceremony free to attend?
Yes! However, you need to be there at least 2-3 hours in advance to secure a good spot with a view of the tree. The opening of the Christmas tree in New York is one of the most popular events of the year. Therefore, there are events and parties around the ceremony that guarantee a view of the tree without you having to stand in line for a long time. We visited such a party for you and wrote a detailed experience report on the Christmas tree VIP opening ceremony. There you will find out if it is worth it for you.
If you’re looking for tickets to the Tree Lighting Ceremony, you’ll find them here. Included in the price is a buffet and exclusive access to the Terrace Club at Rockefeller Center, a beautiful 7th floor restaurant with its own terrace and bird’s eye view of Rockefeller Center!
How can I avoid the crowds at the Rockefeller Center Tree Lighting Ceremony?
If you want to avoid the crowds, you can attend an exclusive tree lighting party with views of the tree. These parties do not only offer views of the trees from a warm room but also let you enjoy a great party with food in a festive atmosphere. Because the tree lighting ceremony is such a big deal in New York and only a few locations have great views of the tree, tickets are quite expensive. You will need to decide for yourself whether it is worth it. Check out the details of an exclusive party below.
*If there are no tickets left anymore, it’s because they are sold out! Because of high demand, you need to reserve your spots as soon as you can.
10 Mindblowing Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree Facts
Before we dive into the facts, let us give you a quick idea of when you can see the famous Christmas tree in New York. The Rockefeller Center Tree is typically cut down at the beginning of November before it arrives at Rockefeller Plaza in mid-November. That doesn’t mean yet that it will be decorated right away!
First, the tree needs to be trimmed to guarantee the beautiful look we all know. After the trim, which typically takes about a week, the decorating-process starts and doesn’t finish until the day of the lighting ceremony.
How many miles did it have to travel to now be admired by the whole world? How many lights actually shine on the tree so that it can shine brightly? We took a closer look at the famous Christmas tree and discovered some exciting facts.
- Of course, everything is super-sized in New York City. The Christmas tree is no exception and the famous Norway Spruce typically comes in at a height of around 85 feet.
- The sparkling tree weighs about 13 tons.
- The branches of the fir are illuminated with about 50,000 LED bulbs on almost 10 kilometers of cable.
- The only thing that could possibly outdo the thousands of lights is the sparkling Christmas star tree topper. It is made from 25,000 real Swarovski crystals and is either light nor cheap. It weighs an astonishing 900 pounds and costs about $1.5 million.
- The first Tree Lighting Ceremony took place back in 1933.
- The spruces grow for over 90 years in order to have the honor of being the centerpiece of NYC’s beginning to the holiday season. The first tree lighting ceremony dates to 1933 meaning the trees are older than the ceremony itself.
- Every year, the tree is donated and comes from a different town, sometimes hundreds of miles away from Rockefeller Plaza. Oftentimes, however, it comes from New York or Pennsylvania. In 2021 the Rockefeller Christmas Tree will come from Maryland.
- On average, the Christmas tree gets 500,000 visitors a day! That comes to a total of 18 million Christmas visitors during its time as the centerpiece of Rockefeller Plaza.
- The tree consumes an incredible 1,297-kilowatt-hours per day. These come in large part from solar cells installed at Rockefeller Center. A good thing – I don’t think anyone wants to pay that power bill!
- Once the lights are turned off in January, the wood of the tree is donated to charity. For many years, it was mulched and then spread throughout New York’s parks. But then doors and door frames were made from the wood and donated to those in need. Sometimes the tree was also turned into paper.
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