Heritage Immigration Pop Culture Tradition

The Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree & Italian Immigrants

Seeing the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree in person is certainly a site to behold. Every year, countless families trek into Manhattan to see the glorious tree.

What if I told you the tree you enjoy today was the idea of Italian immigrants in 1931? Yup, it’s true.

The First Rockefeller Christmas Tree

First Rockefeller Christmas Tree
Italian immigrants gathered at the base of the first Rockefeller Christmas Tree to receive their earnings.
(Source: Rockefeller Center)

The first Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center was erected in 1931, during the construction of Rockefeller Center. Italian immigrants working to build the location we now enjoy, decided to pool their money and purchase a 20 foot balsam fir for the Center. The worker’s families created simple and inexpensive items, such as cranberries, paper garland, and a few tin cans on Christmas Eve.

Two years later, the first “official” 50-foot tall tree was decorated with lights and became what Rockefeller Center dubbed “a holiday beacon for New Yorkers and visitors alike.” Its iconic skating rink was opened below the tree in 1936.

Since then, the trees are much bigger and lit with beautiful lights and topped off with a star that contains approximately three million Swarovski crystals.

Yes, the trees are bigger, but I’m not sure if I would call them better.

I think of that simply decorated tree purchased with money collected by Italian immigrants charged with building some of the greatest buildings in New York City. There wasn’t much money to be had at that time, but they were moved by the spirit of Christmas to have their own celebration.

I think it is a good lesson for all of us. The season shouldn’t be about expensive gifts or ornate trees. It should be a time of family and the simple pleasures of life. When I was in high school, after a wonderful meal full of fish dishes, I would go to Midnight Mass with my friends and then head to the Arlington Diner for coffee and dessert. Faith, family, friends.

May you make your own wonderful memories this Christmas.

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