Christmas and tradition go together like mistletoe and a doorway ---- and nothing says holiday spirit quite like the tree at Rockefeller Center in Manhattan. Standing in the chilly, New York air and watching the tree come to life with lights and decorations sparking in the dark is just the thing you need to get thoughts of sugar plums dancing through your head.
Although the Christmas Tree Lighting officially became an annual tradition in 1933, the celebration actually began a few years before that. During the Great Depression, when Rockefeller Plaza was in the process of being built, construction workers on the project set up a 20-foot-tall fir tree and decorated it with garlands of cranberries, berries and tinsel.
Throughout the years, the tradition (and the tree) have grown, and today the spruce or fir on display typically stands an incredible 80 feet tall. Naturally, it takes a lot to light a skyscraper of a tree like that. Each year it’s wound with as many as 30,000 lights attached to 5 miles of wiring. In order to get everything ready in time for the annual lighting ceremony, workers begin scoping out greenery in Connecticut, Vermont, Ohio and even Canada by helicopter early in the season.
Each year the lighting happens in late November and is free to the public. You need to get there early though --- entrance to the ceremony is on a first come, first served basis. Travelers should be able to enter the plaza from West 48th and 51st Streets, as well as from 5th and 6th Avenue. If you can’t make it to Manhattan to see the lighting in person, the ceremony is televised every year and includes live musical numbers, performances, and dance routines.
If you miss the lighting ceremony, but happen to be in the Big Apple during December or early January, you can also swing by to see the tree daily at 30 Rockefeller Plaza. It is free and open to the public every day from 5:30am – 11:30pm. If you feel like really amping up the spirit, you can ice skate underneath the tree. General admission is $32 in the peak season for adults, and $15 for children under 11 and seniors. There's also hot cocoa to beat the winter chill at several locations inside Rockefeller Center. If you plan ahead, you can find opportunities for free hot cocoa, which makes it all the sweeter. It's one of our must-try New York City travel hacks for the winter season. You better hurry though --- the tree stays up until the week after New Year’s Day, when it is taken down and recycled.