Each year, anywhere from 500,000-800,000 people visit the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree in New York City during the holiday season. While these onlookers marvel over its beauty as they get in the Christmas spirit, many are unaware of the tree’s Italian American roots.
Its origins can be traced back to December of 1931 when Rockefeller Center was still under construction and Italian laborers pooled their money to purchase the complex’s first Christmas tree. Standing 20 feet tall, the Italian immigrants decorated the balsam fir with strings of cranberries, tin cans, foil wrappers from blasting caps, gum wrappers, and garlands of paper made by their families. Two years later, Rockefeller Center made the Christmas Tree an annual tradition, hosting the very first official tree lighting ceremony in 1933.
The original tree was erected during the height of the Great Depression and would come to serve as a symbol of hope and resilience for those who were struggling to make ends meet. These laborers had limited financial means, but still contributed what little they had to continue a popular Christmas tradition from their home country of Italy where Catholicism is practiced by most. The complex would eventually become a community gathering place for people all over the city to forget about their troubles for just a moment in order to get in the holiday spirit.
The Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree is an important reminder of the contributions made by Italian immigrants to New York City, becoming an integral part of the holiday season by people of all religious backgrounds. It is a reminder of the joy and beauty that can be found even in the most difficult times.
Every tree has roots, and those of the storied Norway spruce in the heart of New York City are that of hard work, tradition, and perseverance.