By Diane D’Allessandro
CCC Journalism Program

NEW YORK – The lighting of the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree has been a tradition in New York City for the last 78 years.

Thousands of people crowded the streets and local shops of New York on Nov. 30 for this year’s event. The tree illuminated both stages of the center’s plaza. Streets were blocked off near Rockefeller Center, as 48th to 52nd streets between Fifth and Sixth avenues were closed from 3 to 10 p.m. The annual ceremony took place from 7 to 9 p.m.

NBC’s live telecast gave audience members a chance to show off their Christmas signs and television viewers were given a taste of the holiday spirit.

Al Roker and Natalie Morales hosted the Christmas tree lighting event a long with special celebrity guests. The Rockettes’ shimmering outfits allowed for graceful dancing and nostalgic New York City memories. Musical guests included Kylie Minogue, who danced through “Santa Baby” in a fuzzy, white cape. Josh Groban took a more traditional approach with Christmas carols while Boyz ll Men cheered for the holiday display. Jessica Simpson sang a duet with Petty Officer 3rd Class John Wesley Britt. Susan Boyle, Charice from Glee, Sheryl Crow, Jackie Evencho and Katherine Jenkins were among the many celebrity guests to grace the stages.

The crowd waited in anticipation for 8:55 p.m., a time when Mayor Michael Bloomberg pushed the button to turn on the 5-mile string of blinking white and colored lights around the 74-foot Norway spruce. Umbrellas, flashing cameras and ponchos were readily available for the fans, who were feeling the rain and the 58 degree weather.

Suzanne L. Ash of Medford, N.J., said, “I come to the lighting every year and a chance to see the gorgeous lights surpasses the need to be dry.”

The tree was donated by Peter Acton, a New York firefighter and 9/11 first responder. The 12-ton tree came from Acton’s backyard in Mahopac, N.Y.

The tree will remain lit from the early morning through 11:30 p.m. daily and will be lit for 24 hours a day on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. The lights will be shut off on New Year’s Eve but the tree will remain up until Jan. 2.

The tree will be recycled after Jan. 2. The Norway spruce will be donated to Habitat for Humanity, while three tons of mulch will be given to the Boy Scouts of America. The trunk will be used as an obstacle jump for the equestrian team of New Jersey.

Michael Waters of Berlin, N.J., said, “I’m relieved to know that almost every bit of the tree is recycled, it makes for an even better tree lighting event.”

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