© 2023 WSHU
NPR News & Classical Music
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

New Yorkers fill Rockefeller Center for the annual Christmas tree lighting

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Last night, a 14-ton, 82-foot-tall spruce tree was the biggest spectacle in New York City. After years of pandemic restrictions, crowds were back to see the Christmas tree lighting at Rockefeller Center. Camille Petersen tried to go, but she only got close. She has this report from a very long line in Manhattan.

CAMILLE PETERSEN, BYLINE: In the hours before the tree lighting, getting around Rockefeller Center meant walking shoulder to shoulder with a crowd that stretched across a full sidewalk and off the curb. It's Amanda Kelley's first Christmas season as a New Yorker.

AMANDA KELLEY: It's a lot of people - probably the most people I've seen in one location in New York so far.

PETERSEN: Everyone's looking for a way to get closer to Rockefeller Center. And it turns out, that means standing in the three-block line. I find the end of the line and join it. But about 15 minutes before the ceremony is supposed to begin, we all get bad news from a police officer yelling into the crowd - Rockefeller Center is full.

UNIDENTIFIED POLICE OFFICER: No one's getting in, so you guys are standing here for nothing. I'm sorry.

PETERSEN: The news hits Emma Tibbs hard.

EMMA TIBBS: We came from South Wales just to see the Christmas tree lights get switched on.

PETERSEN: What made you want to see the tree so much?

TIBBS: It was my 40th birthday present to come and see the lights.

PETERSEN: She said she might come back later tonight to see the tree. After the announcement that no one's going to get in, some people leave the line. Others stick around, trying to inch closer and hear one of the performances before the lighting...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing) That's the jingle bell - that's the jingle bell...

PETERSEN: ...Or at least admire the lights and decorated windows of Saks Fifth Avenue. That's on Melissa Giles and Laurie Johnson's list. They're visiting from New York State and Ohio.

LAURIE JOHNSON: It's kind of a bucket list to do Christmas in New York.

MELISSA GILES: Yeah.

JOHNSON: So this is our Christmas in New York. We're going to the Rockettes and "Wicked," and we're doing all that fun stuff.

PETERSEN: But they don't want to jostle through any more crowds tonight

GILES: After going through that crowd I'm like...

JOHNSON: I know, we kind of turned around and came back.

GILES: ...Really? I'm not sure what I was thinking.

JOHNSON: I was like, maybe not the place for us. You know, we're going to find some alcoholic beverages.

(LAUGHTER)

PETERSEN: The city is expecting 6.5 million visitors between Thanksgiving and New Year's. That's 85% of the record tourism number in the pre-pandemic year 2019. As the night goes on, more and more people gathered, still hoping to catch the glow of the tree. But their best bet was actually checking Rockefeller Center's Instagram for a clear shot of what happened at 9:57 p.m.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: 3, 2, 1.

(CHEERING)

PETERSEN: The tree glitters from the glow of 50,000 lights. It's topped with a 900-pound crystal-studded star - an extravagant, crowded start to the city's holiday season.

For NPR News, I'm Camille Petersen in New York.

(SOUNDBITE OF VINCE GUARALDI TRIO'S "O TANNENBAUM") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Camille Petersen