The Energy Evolution of the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree

April 12, 2017   By The SOE Team

The Energy Evolution of the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree

The magic of New York City at Christmastime is made up of snow flurries, the hustle and bustle of shopping and, of course, the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree. I was born in New York, and even though we moved away, my family still goes back to New York City every single Christmas. There’s something about standing in front of the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree that makes the holidays feel complete.

The Rockefeller Center tree usually ranges from 80 to 100 feet tall, about 15 times the of our regular 6-foot Christmas tree at home. Covered in lights and decorations, I wondered how much energy this tradition requires. I got in the holiday spirit and dug a little deeper into the history of Rockefeller Center. This iconic Christmas tree has more to its story than lights and decorations.


A sign of hope during dark times

  • 1931: The first Rockefeller Center Christmas tree was only 20 feet tall and stood on a wooden crate on December 24, 1931. Since 1931 was still the beginning of the Great Depression, the decorations on the tree were mostly tin cans and scrap paper. No energy was required.
  • 1933: A 50-foot pine tree was decorated with 700 lights for the first official Christmas tree lighting.
  • 1934: The Christmas tree had 1,200 colored lights – almost double the number of lights from the previous year.
  • 1942: Blackout regulations from World War II banned all outdoor Christmas trees in the city from using lights.



The end of the war brings new light

  • 1945: After the war ended, the Christmas tree had 700 fluorescent globes and used six ultraviolet light projectors to make the globes glow.
  • 1951: The tree lighting ceremony was first televised on The Kate Smith Show.
  • 1953: 6,000 icicle lights and giant red floodlights were used.



Recycling the tree

  • 1971: Rockefeller Center recycled its Christmas tree for the first time and turned it into 30 3-bushel bags of mulch for nature trails in upper Manhattan.
  • 1973: The oil embargo and energy crisis meant fewer lights could be burned and couldn’t stay on as long.
  • 1986: The Christmas tree had 20,000 incandescent lights, using more energy than ever before.
  • 2001: The tree was decorated in red, white and blue lights in honor of September 11th
  • 2005: Lumber from the tree was used to make doorframes for Habitat for Humanity homes. The tree is still donated to Habitat for Humanity each year.



Source: flickr user/Angelo Amboldi

Rockefeller Center switches to LED lights and renewable energy

  • 2007: Rockefeller Center switched from incandescent lights to more than 30,000 energy-saving LED lights. The LED lights reduced the tree’s electricity consumption from 3,510 to 1,297 kWh per day. That’s how much electricity a 2,000 sq. foot house uses in an entire month!
  • 2007: 363 solar panels were installed on top of Rockefeller Center. The solar panels help power the tree and are tied into the city’s power grid.
  • 2014: The Christmas tree had 45,000 LED lights, which use about 5 miles of wire.


Source: AP Photo/Richard Drew

Where do recent trees come from?

  • 2011: The 74-foot tree came from Mifflinville, Pennsylvania. Weighing approximately 10 tons, the tree arrived in New York City on a flatbed truck in time for the holiday season.
  • 2012: The tree from Flanders, New Jersey, survived the winds of Hurricane Sandy and made it to New York City, where it was covered with 30,000 lights.
  • 2013: Shelton, Connecticut, provided the Rockefeller tree for the second time. The 76-foot Norway spruce traveled 70 miles to Manhattan.
  • 2014: The Christmas tree from Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania, had 45,000 LED lights, which used about 5 miles of wire.
  • 2015: This year’s 78-foot tree is from Gardiner, New York. The lighting ceremony is set for Wednesday, December 2.


Source: flickr user/Wally Gobetz

A look toward the future

Now the Christmas tree lighting at Rockefeller Center is a multimillion dollar event that requires much more than a wooden crate. The change from incandescent lights to LED lights was a drastic improvement, and the inclusion of solar panels in 2007 shows that New York City is a leader in the development of renewable energy. I hope Rockefeller Center continues to find ways to make the famous Christmas tree as energy efficient as possible so everyone can enjoy this holiday tradition for years to come.