The Christmas Tree in Rockefeller is the most famous Christmas tree in the world and one of New York’s most iconic tourist attractions. Such prestige calls for a formal lighting ceremony of course. Each year on the Wednesday after Thanksgiving NBC hosts the ceremony with celebrity performances leading up to the grand moment and every second is aired on tv for all of America to watch. When we were college freshman, Amy, Meghan and I thought it would be the coolest thing ever to go to live. “Live” is a loose term because they record the show from 5:00-7:00 and then replay it 7:00-9:00 on the monitors leading up to the actual time of the lighting. In order to get a spot on the street with a quality view you have to arrive hours in advance. Amy and I left immediately from school and made our way to Rock Center. The view from the front was already full so we made our way to the north end and found quality realstate in the baracaded block, giving us a top notch view of the large screens that would display the performances but a first hand view of the tree. THE tree.
Once you’re in, you’re in. There’s no bathroom breaks so you better plan ahead. Meghan, having a much fuller class load, wasn’t able to join us until much later. She pleaded her case to police officers, slightly fibbing by saying that she had been separated from her family. By some miracle, and possibly her flirtatious smile, the police officers let her into the closed off section and she made it just in time for the second show. A feat that I honestly don’t think would be possible nowadays. Security seems to be much stricter than it was 13 years ago.
We stood amongst the crowd and watched the performances take place on the big screen. Al Roker hosted, strategically building suspense to the epic switch flip. Clay Aiken, Jessica Simpson and wait for it….HILARY DUFF performed!!! My 18 year old self was screaming inside and out! You GUYS! Hilary Duff!!! (I saw her last spring in Whole Foods and managed to keep my cool so don’t worry, I’m sane) The funniest part about my overexcitement to seeing an artist who’s poster hung on my wall was that I couldn’t actually see her. My only view was on the big screen but by my behavior you’d think she was standing right in front of me! If I stood on my tiptoes and held my camera as high as possible on max zoom I could catch a picture of her physical being.
All three artists performed twice along with performances by the Rockettes and some ice skaters and then it was time. My fancy flip phone was out and ready to capture the big moment. Having lived in NYC for a solid 3 months, we thought ourselves to be pros to the crowds and knew that once the tree was lit it would be a shit show trying to get out. Like any professionals, we had a plan. Lights on, snap picture, jump the baracade and run like hell. And that’s how it went. My pal Al led the countdown. 3…2…1… ta da!!! The official start of Christmas! We snapped our photos all while cheering with glee and immediately booked it out of there!
That night I didn’t really feel the magic that comes with New York at Christmas time, I was too consumed with our great escape. Throughout the next few weeks though, we made it back to that tree and I felt it. I’d seen the tree on tv and in movies my whole life and here I was standing in front of it, separated by the famous ice skating rink below. Just across the street stood Sax Fifth Ave adorned with their amazing light show covering every inch of the building. We’d wait on the street corner, reaking of hot dogs, candied almonds and roasted chestnuts, in anticipation of the next cycle of lights. The snowflake-shaped lights danced to the tune of a badass instrumental version of Carol is the Bells. To the left, stood St. Patrick’s Cathedral and farther up to 57th Street hung the Swarovski crystal star. It was magic. A city filled with people in a constant state of hustle and frustration decorated with lights and sparkle.
I’ve been in this city a long time. Some years it’s hard to feel the spirit of the holidays amongst the chaos but I make a point every year to at least cruise by the tree on my bike and find that feeling. That year we began a tradition, something the three of us take very seriously. We made it to the live performances three years in a row but as we got older and responsibilities got a hold on us, showing up to stand and wait for a tree to light at 3pm on a Wednesday seemed like a distant memory. The next few years we made a point to meet up at someone’s apartment and watch the show on tv but like many things in life, we had to let go of our Wednesday-after-Thanksgiving tradition. Each year we are sure to acknowledge via text and remind each other of our memories and love for one another. Unlike the tree, Amy and Meghan are a constant presence in my life to help me find and feel the magic of this city all year round.
Last night was the annual lighting, the official kickoff to season meant to spread love and give joy. If you live in New York I encourage to find time to go to Rockefeller. Inhale and exhale amongst the slow moving tourist and shut off the stress. Stand at that tree, under the star or at the windows at Macy’s and find it. Find the magic of this holiday season and even if you feel it only in that moment pass it on. We could all use a little extra magic in our lives now and then.