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11 Awe-Inspiring Facts About the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree

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getty images

From its humble beginnings in 1931 to the glitz and glamor of today’s tree lightings, the towering Rockefeller Center evergreen has come to symbolize the holidays. Sure, it’s over the top to adorn a nearly 80-foot-tall tree with 45,000 lights—but this storied tradition has a surprisingly sweet side.

1. ROCKEFELLER CENTER’S VERY FIRST TREE WAS ACTUALLY A GRASSROOTS EFFORT.

Assume this monument to Christmas was cooked up by corporate execs in an effort to sell more toys? You could not be more wrong. The first-ever tree was erected in 1931 by a group of Depression-era construction workers who were hired to build the Rockefeller Center complex. The group decorated a 20-foot-tall spruce with paper garlands and tin cans, and lined up beside it on Christmas Eve to get their paychecks.

2. TWO YEARS LATER, THEY MADE IT OFFICIAL.

The construction of this opulent new tower, the biggest private building project in New York City at that time, became a beacon of hope in the early years of the Great Depression. So for Christmas 1933, the first holiday after Rock Center (then called the RCA Building) was completed, the company arranged an official tree-lighting ceremony. A 40-foot-tall tree was strung up with 700 electric lights, and the shebang was broadcast to the nation … on NBC Radio.

3. WITH A FEW EXCEPTIONS, THE TREE’S ALWAYS BEEN TRICKED OUT WITH MULTI-COLORED LIGHTS.

In 1942, instead of a single tree, three trees were erected in the plaza—one was trimmed in red, one in white, and one in blue to honor World War II troops. The trees were never lit, due to wartime blackout rules; ditto the following two years.

4. AS THE TRADITION GREW, THE JOB OF FINDING THE TREE BECAME A YEAR-ROUND PURSUIT.

David P. Murbach, manager of the gardens division of Rockefeller Center, was in charge of finding the tree for nearly three decades before his death in 2010. He searched all year long, often renting helicopters to explore surrounding states and search for the perfect specimen. “You want personality: there’s density, a height and a width that we need,” he once said. “But some trees have a way of holding their branches. I don’t know what else to call it but character.” 

5. THE TASK OF TRANSPORTING IT WILL BLOW YOUR MIND.

Over the years, the firs have come from Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, even Canada. (The tallest to date: A 100-foot tree from Killingworth, Connecticut, which went up in Rockefeller Center in 1999.) After it's chopped down, most trees are driven through the streets of Manhattan on a custom-built trailer; others are floated on a barge down the Hudson River. In 1998, when the 74-foot-tall Norway spruce needed a ride from Richfield, Ohio, it was actually flown in on an Antonov An-124 Ruslan, the world’s largest cargo plane.

6. ITS STAR IS MADE OF SHATTERPROOF GLASS—AND LOTS OF CRYSTALS.

It wouldn't be Christmas without a little bling: The tree-topper's rays are made of shatterproof glass—the same kind used in New York City's skyscrapers—and adorned with 25,000 Swarovski crystals. The star, which measures nearly 9.5 feet wide and weighs 550 pounds, first adorned the tree in 2004.

7. THE TREE GOT A MAJOR UPGRADE FOR ENERGY EFFICIENCY IN 2007.

Stringing a giant evergreen with lights—which are illuminated for more than a month—was never a great move for the environment. So eight years ago, the incandescent bulbs were replaced with LED lights, a move that saved 1200 kwH per day. To put that in perspective: It’s estimated that a family in a 2000-square-foot home would use 1200 kwH to power their household for an entire month. Solar panels, stationed on top a building in Rockefeller Center, power the LEDs. This year's tree will be strung with 45,000 lights on 5 miles of wire.

8. TREES CAN BE NOMINATED BY THEIR OWNERS.

While the search for the perfect tree is ongoing, individuals can also submit their own trees for consideration—and that's how the 2015 Rock Center Christmas tree was found.

Back in the spring, Albert Asendorf of Gardiner, New York, sent in photos of his 78-foot spruce, the centerpiece of the family’s front yard for more than 50 years. Asendorf and his partner, Nancy Puchalski, were worried that the oversized tree would fall onto the house. “It was almost a goner,” Asendorf told CBS. “We were just going to cut it up and get rid of it somehow, use it for firewood.” But that call would have been a tough one to make—the tree had stood in the yard since Asendorf’s father bought the place in 1957, and three generations of the family had played in its branches. So instead of cutting it down, they submitted the tree on a whim.

After the submission caught his eye, today’s head gardener, Erik Pauze, visited Asendorf’s tree and climbed nearly to the top to check things out. “It had a great shape, nice branches, and when I came up and looked for it, the sun was shining right on it so it made it even more glorious,” Pauze told CBS. It was officially chosen in October.

9. THE 2015 SPRUCE GOT THE VIP TREATMENT.

After Pauze made the official selection, the tree got some special attention. Pauze came back to see the tree—fertilizing it and watering it with 1800 gallons a visit—once a week. After the tree removal crew started tying up branches for transport, an armed police officer was stationed in the yard. Nearly 150 locals came to the Asendorf’s yard to watch the tree be cut down in early November.

10. IT'S SEEN BY MILLIONS.

According to the Rockefeller Center website, more than half a million people walk by the tree—stationed between West 48th and 51st streets and Fifth and Sixth Avenues—every day, starting from when it's erected in late November to when it comes down in early January. Thousands will gather in person to watch the official tree-lighting ceremony on December 2, and millions more will tune in from home.

11. WHEN THE HOLIDAY IS OVER, THE TREE KEEPS ON GIVING BACK.

Once the season wraps, Tishman Speyer (the company that operates Rockefeller Center) donates the tree to Habitat for Humanity. The tradition started in 2007, and since then, each tree has been milled and made into lumber to build homes across the country. Children’s book author David Rubel pays tribute to the process in The Carpenter’s Gift, a story about a Depression Era boy wishing for a home for his family. The parts of the tree that can't turned into lumber aren't wasted; they're turned into commemorative paper bookplates that go inside The Carpenter’s Gift.

All photos courtesy of Getty Images.

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10 Things You Might Not Know About Chinese New Year
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iStock

Some celebrants call it the Spring Festival, a stretch of time that signals the progression of the lunisolar Chinese calendar; others know it as the Chinese New Year. For a 15-day period beginning February 16, China will welcome the Year of the Dog, one of 12 animals in the Chinese zodiac table.

Sound unfamiliar? No need to worry: Check out 10 facts about how one-sixth of the world's total population rings in the new year.

1. THE HOLIDAY WAS ORIGINALLY MEANT TO SCARE OFF A MONSTER.

Nian at Chinese New Year
iStock

As legend would have it, many of the trademarks of the Chinese New Year are rooted in an ancient fear of Nian, a ferocious monster who would wait until the first day of the year to terrorize villagers. Acting on the advice of a wise old sage, the townspeople used loud noises from drums, fireworks, and the color red to scare him off—all remain components of the celebration today.

2. A LOT OF FAMILIES USE IT AS MOTIVATION TO CLEAN THE HOUSE.

woman ready to clean a home
iStock

While the methods of honoring the Chinese New Year have varied over the years, it originally began as an opportunity for households to cleanse their quarters of "huiqi," or the breaths of those that lingered in the area. Families performed meticulous cleaning rituals to honor deities that they believed would pay them visits. The holiday is still used as a time to get cleaning supplies out, although the work is supposed to be done before it officially begins.

3. IT WILL PROMPT BILLIONS OF TRIPS.

Man waiting for a train.
iStock

Because the Chinese New Year places emphasis on family ties, hundreds of millions of people will use the Lunar period to make the trip home. Accounting for cars, trains, planes, and other methods of transport, the holiday is estimated to prompt nearly three billion trips over the 15-day timeframe.

4. IT INVOLVES A LOT OF SUPERSTITIONS.

Colorful pills and medications
iStock

While not all revelers subscribe to embedded beliefs about what not to do during the Chinese New Year, others try their best to observe some very particular prohibitions. Visiting a hospital or taking medicine is believed to invite ill health; lending or borrowing money will promote debt; crying children can bring about bad luck.

5. SOME PEOPLE RENT BOYFRIENDS OR GIRLFRIENDS TO SOOTHE PARENTS.

Young Asian couple smiling
iStock

In China, it's sometimes frowned upon to remain single as you enter your thirties. When singles return home to visit their parents, some will opt to hire a person to pose as their significant other in order to make it appear like they're in a relationship and avoid parental scolding. Rent-a-boyfriends or girlfriends can get an average of $145 a day.

6. RED ENVELOPES ARE EVERYWHERE.

a person accepting a red envelope
iStock

An often-observed tradition during Spring Festival is to give gifts of red envelopes containing money. (The color red symbolizes energy and fortune.) New bills are expected; old, wrinkled cash is a sign of laziness. People sometimes walk around with cash-stuffed envelopes in case they run into someone they need to give a gift to. If someone offers you an envelope, it's best to accept it with both hands and open it in private.

7. IT CAN CREATE RECORD LEVELS OF SMOG.

fireworks over Beijing's Forbidden City
iStock

Fireworks are a staple of Spring Festival in China, but there's more danger associated with the tradition than explosive mishaps. Cities like Beijing can experience a 15-fold increase in particulate pollution. In 2016, Shanghai banned the lighting of fireworks within the metropolitan area.

8. BLACK CLOTHES ARE A BAD OMEN.

toddler dressed up for Chinese New Year
iStock

So are white clothes. In China, both black and white apparel is traditionally associated with mourning and are to be avoided during the Lunar month. The red, colorful clothes favored for the holiday symbolize good fortune.

9. IT LEADS TO PLANES BEING STUFFED FULL OF CHERRIES.

Bowl of cherries
iStock

Cherries are such a popular food during the Festival that suppliers need to go to extremes in order to meet demand—last year Singapore Airlines flew four chartered jets to Southeast and North Asian areas. More than 300 tons were being delivered in time for the festivities.

10. PANDA EXPRESS IS HOPING IT'LL CATCH ON IN THE STATES.

Box of takeout Chinese food from Panda Express
domandtrey, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

Although their Chinese food menu runs more along the lines of Americanized fare, the franchise Panda Express is still hoping the U.S. will get more involved in the festival. The chain is promoting the holiday in its locations by running ad spots and giving away a red envelope containing a gift: a coupon for free food. Aside from a boost in business, Panda Express hopes to raise awareness about the popular holiday in North America.

A version of this story originally ran in 2017.

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31 Valentine's Day Cards Through the Years
Chris Ware, Keystone Features/Getty Images
Chris Ware, Keystone Features/Getty Images

Giving romantic Valentine's Day cards slowly came into fashion during the 18th century, but they were mostly DIY affairs at the time. By the end of that century, pre-printed cards began to appear, and once the printing and manufacturing technologies of Victorian Britain picked up, the Valentine card industry boomed. Not all sentiments were romantic—some were downright rude—but the tradition of giving friends and loved ones cards has only continued to grow (it's estimated that Americans will spend $1 billion on cards this year alone). Below are 31 cards from years past.

1. 

Vintage Valentine circa 1860
A vintage Valentine circa 1860.
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

For the couple who fancies themselves a Victorian-era Romeo and Juliet.

2. 

vintage Valentine circa 1902.
A vintage Valentine circa 1902.
New York Public Library // Public Domain

Here's hoping his best girl can teach this little Edwardian Alfalfa a thing or two about grammar.

3. 

vintage Valentine circa 1902
A vintage Valentine circa 1902.
New York Public Library // Public Domain

He looks so shy about it though!

4. 

vintage Valentine circa 1903
A vintage Valentine circa 1903.
New York Public Library // Public Domain

Puppy love.

5. 

vintage valentine circa 1903
A vintage Valentine circa 1903.
pageofbats, Flickr // Used with permission

Sounds like a recipe for love.

6. 

vintage Valentine circa 1904
A vintage Valentine circa 1904.
New York Public Library // Public Domain

Please, Mr. Postman!

7. 

Vintage Valentine
New York Public Library // Public Domain

For the Irish love in your life.

8.

vintage Valentine circa 1905
A vintage Valentine circa 1905.
New York Public Library // Public Domain

Elaborate flower arrangements have always been quite popular.

9.

Vintage Valentine
A vintage Valentine
New York Public Library // Public Domain

Ahh, the art of love.

10.

vintage Valentine circa 1907
A vintage Valentine circa 1907.
New York Public Library // Public Domain

For when "roses are red, violets are blue" is just a little too … elementary.

11.

vintage Valentine circa 1908
A vintage Valentine circa 1908.
New York Public Library // Public Domain

An enterprising cherub preps for the big holiday by making love locks.

12.

vintage Valentine circa 1909
A vintage Valentine circa 1909.
NEW YORK PUBLIC LIBRARY // PUBLIC DOMAIN

They both seem shocked to be in this position.

13.

vintage valentine with krampus
pageofbats, Flickr // Used with permission

For when your sweetheart loves Santa's demonic counterpart, Krampus, so much that you need to put him on every holiday card.

14.

vintage Valentine circa 1910
A vintage Valentine circa 1910.
New York Public Library // Public Domain

When you want to get a little moralistic with your notes of affection.

15.

vintage Valentine circa 1910
A vintage Valentine circa 1910.
New York Public Library // Public Domain

What a gallant little messenger.

16.

Vintage Valentine circa 1912.
A vintage Valentine circa 1912.
New York Public Library // Public Domain

We vote you don't give the gentleman who sent this the time of day.

17.

vintage Valentine
in pastel, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Like an I-O-U for a walk in the gardens come springtime.

18.

vintage Valentine circa 1920
A vintage Valentine circa 1920.
New York Public Library // Public Domain

Self-deprecating sentiments from the Roaring Twenties.

19.

vintage Valentine circa 1921
A vintage Valentine circa 1921.
New York Public Library // Public Domain

She's got her mind on her honey and her honey on her mind.

20.

vintage Valentine
New York Public Library // Public Domain

Musicians always seem to get the girl.

21.

vintage Valentine circa 1922
A vintage Valentine circa 1922.
New York Public Library // Public Domain

When "the language of the heart" gets lost in translation.

22.

vintage Valentine
pageofbats, Flickr // Used with permission

Dead. I'm dead.

23.

vintage valentine with a clown
pageofbats, Flickr // Used with permission

Creepy clowns are unlikely to win many hearts, "Daddy."

24.

vintage valentine
RoniJJ, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Just make sure your crush doesn't have a seafood allergy.

25.

vintage valentine
pageofbats, Flickr // Used with permission

The hot dog pun almost makes up for putting faces on them.

26.

vintage valentine
pageofbats, Flickr // Used with permission

Tell this stalker to buzz off.

27.

vintage valentine
pageofbats, Flickr // Used with permission

Please avoid this gun show.

28.

vintage valentine

This is frightfully adorable.

29.

valentine
pageofbats, Flickr // Used with permission

Not exactly the most romantic Tennessee Williams line to send …

30.

vintage valentine
pageofbats, Flickr // Used with permission

Racy!

31.

valentine with pizza
pageofbats, Flickr // Used with permission

Now this is a sentiment we can get behind.

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