New York is a world standard for Christmas celebrations, and nothing screams Christmas in New York more than the huge traditional Rockefeller Tree. Its story is endearing, and there’s much to learn when we look at the development of such a well-known tradition through the lenses of photographic history.
The first tree in Rockefeller Center
Did you know the first “unofficial” tree ever to take its place in the Rockefeller Center was erected by workers just after the Center’s construction in 1931? Right in the midst of the Great Depression, the construction workers were so grateful for their jobs that, as a token of their appreciation, they spontaneously put up a twenty-foot balsam fir and decorated it with tin cans, cranberries, and paper garlands.
Then there was the first “official” tree
Two years later, the first “official” Rockefeller Tree was lit, a 50-foot balsam fir conceived as a publicity stunt to promote the newly constructed building. So, yeah, many New York holiday traditions were inaugurated as marketing strategies. Heard of Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, for example? Case in point.
A lightless war
The Rockefeller Tree has been erected ever since, although there were occasions in which it couldn’t be lit. During World War II, due to blackout regulations, there were no Christmas lights mounted on the firs and the ornaments had to be made of painted wooden stars and spheres (given no materials essential to the war effort could be used).
A true spectacle
In 1949, the Rockefeller Tree was particularly noteworthy, as it provided a spectacle of lights that produced some of the worst traffic jams ever to have afflicted the streets of New York up until that time. Drivers slowed down to catch a glimpse of the dazzling marvel, after all!
Lifting a giant
With a giant 76-foot tree, 1949 was a good year for the Rockefeller Center tradition. It was ultimately adorned with over 7,500 lights and more than 500 plastic globes, sprayed with white camouflage paint to give it its distinctive snowy look.
The other ones
But the one at Rockefeller Center is not the only famous New York Christmas tree. There’s a long tradition in Madison Square Park, too, which started in 1912 and keeps going strong. Less known, for sure, but certainly not less special.
The second year for the Madison Square Park tree
It is certainly a beautiful sight as well.
Shopping in the snow
It wouldn’t be Christmas in New York without the never-ending crowds in a shopping spree. Back then, just as now, people filled the streets with a holiday craze trying to find those last-minute, perfect presents for their families, friends, and loved ones. It certainly was as stressful then as it is now, yet these women look rather cheerful in 1945!
First Christmas tree seller
And since Christmas trees are so central to the season’s celebrations, it’s worth showing this photo from the 1910s featuring one of the earliest tree sellers in New York!
And it’s certainly interesting to see Santa nonchalantly sipping coffee in this 1962 photograph.
But that’s not all Santa did. Here’s him again, spreading joy in the 1950s!
As you can see, Christmas has been special in New York for a long time now. And thank technology for the wonders of photography: it allows us to capture history in a very magical way! Oh, and Merry Christmas!
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