Despite a steady rain, thousands of people amassed at Rockefeller Center last night for the annual tree lighting event. Besides the dramatic moment when the lights go from off to on, there were performances by Aretha Franklin, Rod Stewart, Rob Thomas, Alicia Keys, Jo Dee Messina, Barry Manilow, Shakira, The Muppets, and The Roots. Photographer Katie Sokoler got a bird's-eye view from Rockefeller Center's "620 Loft & Garden," where the Canadian Tourism Commission held an invite-only event intended to lure tourists to their country... by celebrating a classic New York tradition?

It's not exactly clear what the Canadian connection is here (maybe something to do with all those Canadian tree sellers who invade town every December with their good vibes and primo herb?) but one guest who attended the event emailed to say it was fun, and there were giant Canadian mascots (photo 9): "We all drank wine while looking out the windows and laughing at all the people standing in the rain. There were thousands of people standing on side streets that couldn't even see the tree! What is the point of even coming? Probably just to tweet that they were there right?" Also, aren't they're hosting the 2010 Winter Olympic Games up there, eh?

The 76-foot Norway spruce, which was 50 years old when it was chopped down in Easton, Connecticut, uses energy-efficient LEDs and is partially powered by solar panels on the roof of Rockefeller Center. As Jane Krakowski put it, "There it is! A symbol of hope, a beacon of peace, and an official sign that the holiday season has begun!" (We always thought it began with the season's first shopping stampede.) There are plenty of things worthy of "bah, humbug" this time of year, but it's hard not to love that big, beautiful (albeit dead) tree—still lit up like, uh, a Christmas tree despite two wars, a comatose economy, and perpetually blocked bike lanes. Below, check out video of the climactic countdown to lights on!