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February 8, 2023

Luminous Season

Big tree, bright lights, Denver goes digital

Once upon a time, real trees were cut for warmth, shipbuilding, utensil making and various sundry things. And once upon a time not so long ago, Christmas trees did not appear until December. Now, trees can be pulled from a box or seemingly created out of thin air, like the one above.

“The Mile High Tree” in Denver, claimed as America’s tallest digital holiday tree, was lit pre-Thanksgiving on Nov. 18. Other American holiday tree traditions include New York City’s Rockefeller Center tree and the National Christmas Tree in Washington, DC. New York’s tree is generally lit six days after Thanksgiving. Washington’s tree is lit by the president and first lady, typically in early December; this year it was to be lit Nov. 30.  

Fun facts: “The ‘Mile High Tree” is seven stories high, 40’ wide, constructed from 60,000 programmable LED lights. The Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center (2021) was 79’ high, 46’ wide, weighing 12 tons, decorated with 50,000 LED lights; its tree-topper star by Swaroski has 70 spikes, 3 million crystals, and weighs 900 pounds. 

The first tree at Rockefeller Center was erected by workers in 1933 to decorate a muddy construction site of 12 acres. Trees were not lit from 1939 to 1944 due to wartime blackout restrictions. The largest Christmas tree at Rockefeller Plaza, 100’ tall, was cut and hauled from Killingworth, CT (1999).

The first National Christmas Tree was lit by Calvin Coolidge on Dec. 24, 1923. The tree was cut and hauled from Middlebury, VT. Decorated with red, white and green electric bulbs, it culminated an effort by a former secretary of commerce, General Electric and the Society for Electrical Development to promote electricity. 

Months later, Coolidge, addressing the American Forestry Association, criticized cutting down live trees for Christmas. Hence, 1924’s tree was a living specimen transported from Amawalk Nurseries, NY—the largest “big tree” nursery in the world. Nine years later, the nursery supplied a replacement tree due to the “wear and tear” of electrical wires and bulbs. 

All National Christmas trees since 1923 have been living plants. The present tree is a Colorado Blue Spruce (Picea pungens) from York, PA planted on the Ellipse in 1978.

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