In 1931, Rockefeller Center workers pulled money together to buy the tree and decorated it with handmade garlands.
NEW YORK -- Each year, thousands of spectators pack into New York City's Rockefeller Center for one of the grandest displays of the holiday season -- the lighting of the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree.
In recent years, the tree has been topped with a 500-pound Swarovski crystal star, and its lighting is celebrated with celebrity performances and large crowds.
Yet originally, gathering around the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree wasn't such a grand affair. A famous photo from 1931 shows construction workers gathering around a 20-foot-high balsam fir, the plaza's first festive tree.
Rockefeller Center workers pulled money together to buy the tree and decorated it with handmade garlands made by their families, according to Rockefeller Center.
At the first official light two years later, the tree was decorated with only 700 lights, and at the time, Rockefeller Center was only eight months old, according to AccuWeather.
The ceremony got an upgrade in 1936 with an ice-skating pageant at its brand-new rink.
During World War II, Rockefeller Center showcased three trees -- one in red, one in white and one in blue -- to show support for the troops.
The holiday lighting was first broadcast in 1951 and has aired on TV ever since.
The largest tree in Rockefeller's history was 1999's 100-foot-tall tree from Killingworth, Connecticut.
The tree has made history as recently as 2017: For the first time ever, it was lit with energy-efficient LED lights powered by hundreds of solar panels on top of 30 Rockefeller.
This story was originally published in December 2019.