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Rockefeller Center has been celebrating the holidays since before the building even opened in 1933 as workers set up a little tree in the middle of the muddy construction site while Rock Center was being built. In 1934, the second tree to grace the plaza had speakers inside of it to make it seem like it was singing.
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After four years of keeping the trees dark because of black-out regulations during World War II, the tree was glowing once again in 1945. During the “dark years,” the center had three trees decorated with painted wooden stars and unlit red, white and blue globes.
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The tree is usually at least 60 feet tall but can’t be wider than 110 feet because of limitations set by the width of New York City streets. If you have a tree that fits the bill, you can submit it for consideration through the Rockefeller Center website, otherwise scouts are always on the lookout.
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Once wartime regulations were no longer in effect, the center got more creative with their display. They used ultraviolet light projectors to make it seem like the tree’s globes glowed in the dark.
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The 1949 tree was 75 feet tall, spray-painted silver and covered in 7,500 pastel-colored lights. The walkway leading to the tree was decorated with 576 illuminated plastic snowflakes that created a hypnotic effect.
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Starting in the 1950s, scaffolding was used to make it easier to hang the decorations. It took around 20 workers nine days to create the dazzling display.
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This was the first year the tree lighting was televised. It was shown on NBC’s “The Kate Smith Hour.”
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Unlike household Christmas trees, the Rockefeller tree does not need to be watered. The weather outside provides enough nourishment to keep it green through the season.
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This year, the tree had some competition. In 1954, the glowing, horn-blowing angels were debuted in the Rockefeller Center garden. Created by artist Valerie Clarebou, they have since been a staple of the center’s holiday display.
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This 65-foot tree hailed from Belvedere, New Jersey. When its time at Rock Center was through, the tree was turned to mulch. For years the mulch was donated to the Boy Scouts of America and the trunk was sent to the U.S. Olympic Equestrian Team center to be used as obstacles for the horses. In 2007, the donations started going to Habitat for Humanity.
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Rockefeller Center’s restaurants offer special ticketed dining events during the holiday season where children can get their photo taken with Santa Claus.
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The tree is usually lit from 5:30 a.m. until 11:30 p.m. during the holiday season but remains turned on for the full 24 hours on Christmas Day.
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A reporter in Philadelphia tried to get then-Governor David L. Lawrence to stop a family from Harford, Pennsylvania, from donating their tree, presumably to preserve nature, but those efforts failed.
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An 85-foot Norway spruce from Smithtown, New York, was featured in the 1961 display thanks to a donation from Mr. and Mrs. M.A. Gilmartin Jr.
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The 67-foot white spruce used in 1962 was a gift from the Scott Paper Company.
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The 60-foot Norway spruce from 1965 was adorned with 1,200 Christmas bells and 4,000 lights.
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1966 was a special year because it was the first time the tree was brought in from outside of the United States. It was donated from Ottawa, Canada, by the Petawawa Forest Preserve in honor of Canada’s centennial celebration.
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The 1967 display included statues with candelabras on their heads. Although the tree is the main attraction, the display at the nearby promenade has gotten more elaborate over the years.
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In a year marked by the introduction of McDonald’s Big Mac and Elvis’s comeback, visitors turned out in droves for the time-honored tradition of viewing the Rockefeller Christmas tree.
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Woodstock may have been over, but the 1969 tree kept that peace and love vibe going.
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Rockefeller Center kicked off a new decade with a 60-foot white spruce from Coventry, Vermont.
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1971’s 65-foot spruce from East Montpelier, Vermont, has a place in history as the first tree to be recycled at the end of the holiday season.
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Many big name entertainers have been tapped to lead the tree lighting over the years. Barbara Walters was on hand for the lighting of the 1972 tree that was grown in Old Bridge, New Jersey.
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The 1974 tree came from Lehighton, Pennsylvania. This was also the year of the first “TubaChristmas,” an annual gathering of tuba players who perform carols in Rockefeller Plaza.
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This 65-foot tree was found in Montclair, New Jersey. Montclair also happens to be the hometown of Olympia Dukakis, Steven Spielberg and Wendy Williams.
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The 1977 tree was donated from a family in Dixfield, Maine. It was the third time Rockefeller Center featured a tree from the Pine Tree State.
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The 1978 tree came from Mahwah, New Jersey. Residents in Mahwah offer up their own Christmas attractions with extravagant light displays that bring in visitors from all over the state.
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Some people are not content just looking at the tree. In 1979, a 27-year-old man named George Young climbed into the tree and stayed there to protest of the Iranian Hostage Crisis.
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This 65-foot tree tree saw some excitement when an adventurous 19-year-old New Yorker attempted to climb it, only to be arrested when he got down.
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The 1981 tree was a white spruce from Vermont, which stood 65 feet tall. Vermont itself is a bit of a Christmas destination for people looking to capture that snowy small town holiday aesthetic.
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In 1982, Rockefeller Center started a long relationship with Torisilieri Inc., a family-owned landscaping business that has handled the transport and tree installation nearly every year since.
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Holiday revelers in 1983 took a break from hunting down Cabbage Patch dolls and checking out “A Christmas Story” in theaters to scope out what Rockefeller Center had to offer.
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George Orwell had plenty of predictions for life in 1984, but somehow missed camels escorting the Christmas tree to Rockefeller Center.
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The 1985 tree was delivered a day late because the flatbed carrying it got stuck in mud.
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Mary and Vinnie Frohling of Rockland County, New York, donated the 68-foot tree that Vinnie’s father planted back in the ’30s. Tree scouts were actually going with a different option at first but a seven-year-old girl stopped them because she didn’t want her family to part with her beloved spruce.
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The 1988 tree was lit a little over a month after the original buildings were deemed National Historic Landmarks.
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After years of coaxing, Mr. and Mrs. John Meyers of Montebello, New York, finally had their daughter’s blessing to donate the 70-foot Norway spruce on their property for the 1989 display.
PHOTO: Ed Bailey
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Liza Minnelli hosted the lighting ceremony for the tree, which was delivered from Connecticut.
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The 65-foot spruce was found at a home in Suffern, New York.
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81-year-old Andrew Kapusinski donated his Norway spruce from his backyard in Stony Point, New York.
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This year marked the first time the Rockefeller Tree exceeded 30,000 lights.
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Alan and Maria Egler from Ridgefield, Connecticut, gifted their 85-foot spruce to Rockefeller Center because they feared it would eventually topple on their house. Alan told reporters at the time that his wife cried watching the flatbed drive away with their tree.
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The tree scouts had been eyeing this 75-foot spruce for over 10 years before the nuns at Sisters of Christian Charity finally allowed them to take it. The nuns held a special ceremony to bless the tree before saying goodbye.
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Ann Dilger of Armonk, New York, wasn’t initially into parting with her tree because it held sentimental value to her family, but once her kids OK’d it, Ann gave in. The $2,000 and free landscaping she received may have helped too.
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Barbara Rickard of Stone Pony, New York, knew the huge Norway spruce in her yard would be perfect for Rockefeller Center the first time she laid eyes on it. It took her husband a few years to come around, but ultimately a scout who saw the tree during a helicopter expedition was able to convince him.
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Ethel and Adolph Szitar were the donors of the first Rockefeller tree to come from the Heartland. They purchased the spruce as a Christmas tree in 1938 and then planted it in their yard where it stayed for the next 60 years.
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At a height of 100 feet, the 1999 tree from Killingworth, Connecticut, has the distinction of being the tallest Rockefeller tree of all time. The 100-year-old spruce was donated by Jim and Cathy Thomson.
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The 80-foot spruce was found in Buchanan, New York, on the property of William and Frances Heady. The Headys planted it together in 1953 and it weighed seven tons before it was cut down.
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The Tornabenes of Wayne, New Jersey, were proud to offer up their 81-foot spruce to kick off the holiday season following the events of September 11th a few months prior. The ceremony took on a more patriotic tone and former first lady Laura Bush said at the time, “The magic has returned to the Big Apple.”
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Carmine and Mary Rizzo donated the massive tree from their property in Bloomsbury, New Jersey. The year that marked the first year the tree was selected by photo submission rather than a scouting team on a helicopter mission was 2002.
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Manchester, Connecticut, resident Frances Katkauskas planted the tree with her husband 50 years before they decided to share it with New York City and the rest of the world. The 79-foot tree weighed nine tons.
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Donated by the Kontos family of Suffern, New York, this 71-foot spruce was the first to be topped with a Swarovski crystal star.
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Arnold and Gloria Raquet of Wayne, New Jersey, had a neighbor who suggested they donate their enormous spruce when it was getting way too big for their property. Gloria passed away before the tree was selected for the honor, but Arnold insists that his wife would’ve been thrilled by the idea. Arnold saw the donation as a way to share their love with the world.
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Rob Kinnaird and his family in Ridgefield, Connecticut, had to relocate their driveway four times just to make room for this ever-expanding spruce so it was a bit of a no-brainer when the Rockefeller folks expressed interest. “It’s time for it to go out in glory,” Rob’s wife said.
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2007 marked the 75th anniversary of the tradition and the first year the tree was decorated with LED lights. Yet, despite the special year, Joe and Judy Rivnyak of Shelton, Connecticut, were reluctant to part ways with their 84-foot tree. It took three requests and a basket of souvenirs before they agreed to let the tree leave their backyard.
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The Varanyak brothers of Hamilton, New Jersey, claim their 72-foot spruce was planted with the goal of it one day being lit up in Rock Center. Their mother and father didn’t live to see the sapling they planted in 1931 carry out the plan, but it did serve as their first Christmas tree when they moved to the U.S. from Hungary.
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Maria Corti, a schoolteacher from Easton, Connecticut, knew her 10-ton tree would be a perfect fit for Rockefeller Center so she submitted it for consideration. It stood in Maria’s yard for over 50 years before it was selected to be part of Christmas history.
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9/11 first responder Peter Acton and his wife Stephanie donated the 2010 tree after it was spotted at their Mahopac, New York, home by a scouting team. Transporting the 12-ton spruce to midtown Manhattan involved a huge crane and a 115-foot long trailer.
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Mifflinville, Pennsylvania, was the original home of this 74-foot tall spruce. The 75-year-old tree was donated by Debra Keller who made an annual tradition of visiting the Rockefeller tree with her family before donating her own.
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This tree came from Joseph Balku of Flanders, New Jersey. Superstorm Sandy ravaged the surrounding community and left Balku without electricity for weeks, but the 80-foot Norway spruce withstood the flooding and strong wind to serve a greater purpose during the holiday season.
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When the Vargoshe family of Shelton, Connecticut, gave up the 76-foot Norway spruce they admitted it would be an adjustment not seeing the tree every day in their front yard, but they were excited to let the rest of the world enjoy it.
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Though the tree was discovered in Danville, Pennsylvania, by a Rockefeller Center gardener a few years prior, the property owners at the time weren’t willing to part with it. When Dan Sigafoos and Rachel Drosdick-Sigafoos moved into the home, they were happy to share their spruce.
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The 2015 tree stood in the Gardiner, New York, yard of the Asendorf family for 60 years before they gave the 78-footer to the city.
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It took two cranes to lift this 94-foot Norway spruce from Angie and Graig Eichler’s yard in Oneonta, New York.
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The giant Norway Spruce from State College, Pennsylvania, was covered in more than 50,000 lights.
PHOTO: NBC / Contributor
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The 86th tree to be lit was a 72-foot, 12-ton Norway Spruce from Wallkill, New York, 75 miles away from Rockefeller Center. According to Town and Country, Shirley Figuero and Lisette Gutierrez, the owners of the home where the tree was grown, told NBC they bought the house with the tree as an added bonus: “After we bought the house, the previous owner told us, ‘Hey, by the way, the tree in the yard? Rockefeller Center has been scouting it,”
PHOTO: Nicholas Hunt