Every year for at least a decade I've been critical here of the annual tradition of sating New Yorkers' arboreal bloodlust through the sacrifice of an innocent suburban tree. Well, this weekend, I went to see the spectacle for myself. The promises from the press release were too good to pass up: "At 9 a.m., a spike will be driven into the trunk of the tree with a sledgehammer..." Sold.

And so, on Saturday, my cynicism and I were suddenly brought face-to-face with a bunch of people who love this kind of shit—the small crowd of tourists and New Yorkers and leftover Today show gawkers who came to welcome the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree; the man in charge of the whole operation who looks exactly like L.L. Bean created their own Santa; and this year's proud tree donors, Shirley Figueroa and Lissette Gutierrez from Wallkill, NY.

The scene was heartwarming, with a dash of surrealism (as it all centered around, at times, a levitating tree with human hands poking out of it). When I was a kid, going to see this tree was a chaotic fever dream—crowds and noise and gripping my mom's hand for dear life. But everything was so oddly quiet on Saturday.

It all felt like a Hallmark holiday movie reenactment of the event more than the real thing. Maybe it was that there weren't really that many people there (the tree's arrival is much less publicized than its lighting, which will happen on the 28th), or maybe it was the early morning hour (the event starts around 8 a.m.), or perhaps it was simply the quaint tradition itself, but goddamnit I found the whole thing to be delightful. For the first time ever I stood in Midtown Manhattan and felt like I was at the center of a small town, albeit on its most bustling day of the year.

There were tables filled with coffee and muffins and orange juice, and the small crowd was given pine cones and branches from the tree that had fallen off. Kids got candy canes. Adults received Norway spruce seed packets. The scent of pine and coffee mingled together. Behind us, a Zamboni smoothed out the ice for skaters. It may be my fractured spirit talking, but I really needed this.

Goodbye cynicism, this giant "To: NYC" card has crushed you dead.

Afterwards, I took my fallen branches and made my own miniature Rockefeller Center Christmas tree at home.

And the real deal, 75-year-old, 72-foot-tall, 12-ton Norway spruce—which the owners named Shelby—will be up until January 7th. After that, the tree will be donated to Habitat for Humanity to help build housing.

Here's a time lapse of the climactic part of the 3-hour-long event, when the tree is RISEN.


(Video by Lee Towndrow / Gothamist)