Travel: Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree Lighting

I am a huge fan of both “Home Alone” movies. I still remember when I watched the first part for the first time. It was just before Christmas at the start of the 1990s. My then best friend and her family had gone to one of the big outdoor markets at the Polish border where at that time you could find all kinds of pirated material: cassettes, videos, jeans, tracksuits, etc. While my parents never had a video player (later on we were one of the first though to buy a DVD player), my friend’s family owned one. So little me sat there with my friend and her sibblings and watched “Home Alone”. We thought it was hilarious. I even remember going home and telling my parents about the movie. I am pretty sure that I also watched “Lost in New York” in my friend’s house first. This second part is where my fascination for the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree derives from.


What could be greater then than to attend the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree lighting?! Only I noticed last year already that the ceremony always takes place in the middle of the week. This year it was on Wednesday, 30 November. Even though I live in Boston, it is impossible to get from there to New York City fast enough after work. I came up with another plan: my employer allows me to take some personal days every year. So I asked for one and went to Manhattan by bus on Tuesday evening. Like this I had a nice short break because I spent the night in a hotel, slept in, walked around a little, and then went to the Rockefeller Center in the afternoon.


Shop window of Saks 5th Avenue

Of all days it rained on Wednesday. No, let me correct myself, there were heavy showers. I was happy I had brought an umbrella. I’ll come back to this in a second. The lighting ceremony was scheduled for 7 to 9 p.m. Even though I had done some research before, I hadn’t been able to figure out when it was the best time to start waiting. I arrived at the Rockefeller Center at 3.45 p.m., just when NYPD (New York City Police Department) started to cordon off 5th Avenue. Because I wasn’t sure either where the best place to stand would be, I asked the officers, who told me that in front of Saks 5th Avenue and thus just opposite the street of the tree would be a perfect spot.


It would have been a great spot, if only people had been allowed to stay there. But after waiting for about 30 minutes, other officers came and told the crowd to go somewhere else because that was a no waiting area. So I went around the block and asked another officer on 48th street if it really was okay to stand there. He said yes. Together with many other people we waited there and had a good view at the tree in the Plaza. Only – you guess it – some time after that other NYPD people arrived and told us to leave. That chaos made me angry because not even the officers seemed to have a clue. Also the crowd was getting bigger and bigger, but many sidewalks were already blocked. I don’t feel well being in the middle of a dense crowd and was almost considering to leave. But then again I had come extra to see the lighting.


So I walked around the whole block and eventually found an entrance to the correct public viewing area so to speak. There were officers checking bags and collecting umbrellas. Yes, nobody was allowed to keep their umbrella – and it was pouring. I thought my jacket might protect me from most of the rain. Since I wasn’t really willing to give up my childhood dream, I parted with my umbrella and finally entered the right waiting area. The atmosphere was great. People sang Christmas songs. There were three older women there who told everyone that there neighbour had provided the tree. Apparently, the Rockefeller Center chief gardener had stumbled upon the tree when he had looked at other trees that had been applied for. When he knocked at the tree owner’s door, the owner first hid because he didn’t expect any visitors.


At 7 p.m. the lighting ceremony finally started with live performances. Since we stood between 50th and 51th Street, we couldn’t see the stars down in the Plaza. But there was a big screen on which we saw the Pentatonix, Neil Diamond, Jordan Smith and others. Also we could glimpse the presenters from time to time next to the tree. Unfortunately, the rain got heaviest just after 8 p.m. Eventually, when every inch of my body was soaked, I decided to give up. I was wet, I was cold, I was miserable. Together with many other wet people I entered the building on the backside of Radio City Music Hall. Of course it would have been far more clever to go inside before I was drenched … I stayed inside for the next thirty minutes, mostly pitying myself.


I only went back outside when it was time for the tree to be lit. By that time there were many people in the crowd with umbrellas – nothing which improved my mood. At least they closed them for the lighting. And then finally the Radio City Rockettes danced for one last time, everybody counted down from ten – and the huge, beautiful tree was lit. It was a wonderful sight, and for a second everybody stood still.

Afterwards, the crowd quickly dispersed. I actually went back to Times Square and bought some dry clothes before taking the bus back to Boston at midnight.


Is it worth attending the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree lighting? It had been a long dream come true for me. So yes, it is worth it if it is something you have always wanted to go to. But I must admit that I don’t think I’ll ever go there again for the lighting. The weather was horrible; I could have stood in the front if NYPD had given correct answers; the whole show seems to be specially geared to the television audience because it aired from 8 to 9 p.m. In many ways it is better to sit in front of your television at home and watch the lighting there. Get a hot chocolate or mulled wine, prop up your legs and enjoy. Go and see the tree on any other day in December – preferably when the weather is much better.


Now that I and all my things have dried (only my camera stayed dry in its totally waterproof bag), I am glad I went there on Wednesday. It was a great day in general – and I finally got to see the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree. Now I am planning to watch both “Home Alone” movies over the next few days.

© janavar


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4 thoughts on “Travel: Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree Lighting”

  1. Even with the rain and the crowds, I would have had to endure it all, just like you.

    Thanks for adding this trip to my list of things I have to see, eventually.

    Wanderlust and envy go together so well.

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