‘Tis the Season for the Annual Rockefeller Center Tree Lighting Ceremony

Rockefeller Center Tree
Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree | Andrew F. Kazmierski/Shutterstock
Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree | Andrew F. Kazmierski/Shutterstock

Christmastime in New York is a sight to behold. After the first snowfall, Central Park transforms into a winter wonderland. Tourists crowd around glittering red and green department store windows. And even amid all the conspicuous displays of holiday cheer, Rockefeller Center’s ice rink, trumpeting angels, and, of course, the legendary Christmas tree glow like Rudolph’s nose.
Made famous around the globe thanks, in part, to classic holiday flicks like Elf, Miracle on 34th Street, and Home Alone 2, the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree draws millions of spectators each year. And finally, with Thanksgiving and its showboaty parade in the rearview, it’s the tree’s turn to shine.

On Wednesday, December 4, NBC’s backyard will see bigger-than-usual crowds as thousands of yulephiles gather for celebrity performances, holiday tunes, and the annual lighting of the tree. Here’s everything you need to know before welcoming Christmastime at the 87th Rockefeller Center Tree Lighting Ceremony in Midtown Manhattan.

How do I get to the Rockefeller Center?

Subway options abound: Take a B, D, F, or M train to 47th-50th Streets–Rockefeller Center to get off right at the action. If you’re up for a little bit of walking, take the N, R, or W train to 49th Street, the E or M train to 5 Avenue/53rd Street, or the 4, 5, 6, or 7 train to Grand Central Terminal.

When should I arrive?

Warning: You’re not going to like the answer. The event runs from about 7-10pm, but because spots are first come, first served -- and because it’s one of the most anticipated holiday events in the country -- you’ll want to arrive around 3pm to get a good view. If you’re running a little late, you’ll probably be fine, but don’t even try showing up after 4. Waiting around may not sound very exciting, but when you see the lineup of performances, you’ll understand the appeal.

The Radio City Rockettes
The Radio City Rockettes | lev radin/Shutterstock

Who's performing this year?

The actual tree lighting is only a small part of the evening’s fun. Expect performances from Sexiest Man Alive John Legend, sibling dancers Derek and Julianne Hough, Brett Eldredge, Idina Menzel, Gwen Stefani, Lea Michele, Chicago, NE-YO, Straight No Chaser, and Skylar Astin and Alex Newell, two stars from NBC’s upcoming musical dramedy Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist. You’ll also see Miss America 2019 Nia Franklin and the famed Radio City Rockettes.

What should I wear?

Sure it’ll be crowded, but don’t count on body heat alone to keep you warm. As with any outdoor winter event, layers are key, especially when you’re outside for an extended period of time. Wear comfortable shoes, thick socks, and fashion yourself with plenty of head and hand protection so you can focus more on the entertainment than the low temps. Your ears, nose, fingers, and toes will thank you.

Note: Umbrellas, backpacks, large bags, coolers, and alcoholic beverages are generally not allowed through security, so plan accordingly.

Will the ceremony be broadcast live?

If you can’t make the Tree Lighting Ceremony in person this year -- or if you’re put off by large crowds and hours of waiting -- tune into NBC’s primetime special from 8-10pm ET and watch from the comfort of your couch. If you’re really devoted, catch the pre-show from 7-8pm ET. You can also see photos from the scene by following the hashtags #RockCenter and #RockCenterXmas on Instagram.

the 2019 rockefeller christmas tree
The 2019 Rockefeller Tree being craned into place on November 9 | Courtesy of Diane Bondareff/AP Images for Tishman Speyer

Where is this year's tree from?

The 2019 Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree comes from the Village of Florida in Orange County, New York. The Norway spruce, standing 77 feet tall, was donated by Carol Schultz, who’s owned the tree since 1959. Over the past 60 years, it’s grown from a coffee table evergreen, to a planted fixture in her front yard, to a perfectly formed tree that caught the attention of the Rockefeller Center’s head gardener and tree selector, Erik Pauze, on one of his scouting trips. Schultz has been trying to get her tree to the Rockefeller Center since 2010, and this year, her wish came true.

How long will the tree stay lit?

The Rockefeller Tree will stay on display until 7pm on Friday, January 17, 2020. To see 5 miles of twinkling LEDs wrapped around the tree, visit any day after December 4 between 6am and midnight. The only exceptions are Christmas day, when the lights will shine for a full 24 hours, and New Year’s Eve, when they shut off at 9pm.

What happens to the tree after the holidays?

For the 13th year in a row, the Rockefeller Christmas Tree will be donated to Habitat for Humanity once it’s fulfilled its duties at 30 Rock. The spruce will be milled, treated, and used in the organization’s home-building projects.

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Kyler Alvord writes New York things for Thrillist. See what he’s all about on Instagram and Twitter. Or don’t. You’re probably better off if you don’t.