NEW YORK CITY (WABC) -- Thursday marks your first chance to get a safe, socially distanced, up-close view of the world famous Rockefeller Christmas Tree. Viewing began at 6 a.m., with safety precautions in place.
The magic of the 88th annual tree lighting ceremony went off as scheduled Wednesday evening, including the usual lights and music but with no public audience.
Rockefeller Plaza itself was empty - closed to crowds - and the program was streamed online and televised to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
But still some gathered outside barricades, hoping to catch a glimpse of the traditional Christmas magic.
Crowds packed in along Fifth Avenue, their view blocked by NYPD buses and black plastic sheets meant to discourage a mass gathering.
Someone eventually ripped down the black curtain so they could get a view, but no arrests were reported.
The 2020/21 Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree viewing guidelines, approved by New York State and New York City and released earlier this week, follow social distancing and capacity control protocols.
"This is what we need to do to protect everyone," Mayor Bill de Blasio said. "It's a different approach but it's an approach that will keep people safe."
If you want to view the Rockefeller tree from Thursday, December 3, 2020, through early January 2021, here are the viewing protocols:
There will be special tree viewing entrances and traffic patterns, tree viewing time limits, and masks and social distancing will be required at all times.
TREE VIEWING ENTRANCES AND ZONES
- 49th and 50th Streets between 5th and 6th Avenues will be closed to vehicular traffic (limited loading dock access for Rockefeller Center tenants only).
- Tree viewing entrances located on 49th and 50th Streets at 5th and 6th Avenues ONLY.
- Dedicated tree viewing zones located on 49th and 50th Streets between 5th and 6th Avenues ONLY.
- The Rink at Rockefeller Center will be accessible on 49th Street, between 5th and 6th Avenues.
- The Tree will be lit from 6 a.m. to midnight every day.
- Virtual queuing will be used to help manage the flow of visitors viewing the Tree during busy times. Look out for QR codes around Rockefeller Center to begin virtually queueing when the lines are long. Once you have signed up, you will receive a wait time and SMS message when it is your time to return to view the tree.
- Five-minute tree viewing limit.
- Masks mandated at all times.
- Six feet social distancing will be enforced.
- Guests will be directed to delineated pods, spaced six feet apart, with no more than four people in one pod. Groups of more than four people will be separated into two pods.
- Center Plaza, where the tree is physically located, will be closed to the public.
- Entrance to tree viewing and social distancing will be managed by Tishman Speyer security.
- The Channel Gardens (gardens located between 49th and 50th Streets just west of 5th Avenue) will be open for retail customers and tenants only, not open for tree viewing.
- Shops and restaurants in the Concourse can be accessed from 49th and 50th Streets.
- Rockefeller Center tenants will have regular access to their spaces with tenant ID.
As an alternative, you can also watch a live stream of the tree from 8 a.m. to midnight.
For some, despite the changes, just being able to continue the tradition of seeing the tree in a pandemic-changed year was a gift.
"It's been a hard year. I'm single mom of four and only parent home schooling and working most days," Kate Coyle said. "It's still a time for everyone to come together this time of year even if we can't get as close."
Acila Tamir said this year's tree serves as more than the start of the holiday season for so many.
"I know the pandemic is all over the world, but as long as we have the tree we have Christmas spirit," Tamir said.
This year's Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree is a 75-foot-tall, 45-foot-wide Norway spruce from Oneonta, New York. It is wrapped in 50,000 multi-colored LED lights and topped with a Swarovski crystal star.
The Rockefeller Center Christmas tree made its journey from Oneonta, New York to Rockefeller Plaza in Midtown. Officials say the 75-foot Norway spruce was driven to Rockefeller Plaza, raised off of its 115-foot-long trailer and put into place by a crane.
This year, there was a tiny stowaway aboard the tree. A tiny saw-whet owl. She has since been released into the wild.
The Rockefeller Center Ice Rink is now open, but advanced ticket purchase is required.