scorecardHow the 75-foot Rockefeller Christmas tree makes to Manhattan
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How the 75-foot Rockefeller Christmas tree makes to Manhattan

Abby Narishkin,Steve Cameron,Grant Tyler   

  • Rockefeller Center's head gardener found this year's iconic Christmas tree four years ago in the Dick family's backyard.
  • The donated 75-foot-tall Norway Spruce took three days on a 115-foot trailer to make the normally 3.5 hour drive to Manhattan.
  • Over the next few weeks, it was raised up, decorated with 50,000 lights and topped with a 900-pound Swarovski crystal star.
  • But this year, social media called its bare branches a sad representation of 2020 and circled rumors of tree extensions.

Following is a transcript of the video.

[crane lifting]

[Christmas music]

Narrator: The iconic Rockefeller tree didn't come from a Christmas tree farm. It came from someone's backyard, here in Oneonta, New York. This year's tree is an 80-year-old Norway spruce found in Al Dick's yard.

Erik Pauze: Tree's 75 feet tall, 45 feet wide, and about 11 tons. I found this tree back in 2016.

Al Dick: The head gardener for Rockefeller Center happened to be riding down the road, and he saw the tree.

Narrator: Erik stopped by Al's general store to see if Al and his family would donate their tree to Rockefeller Center.

Al: He asked me if we could do it, and we said, "Sure," but they had to wait a few years.

Paula Dick: It wasn't tall enough when they first saw it.

Erik: I've been looking at it for a couple years. I watered it, I fed it over a couple of years, and then this summer when I came by, it just looked great, and it looked perfect, and it was the year to take it.

Narrator: When this spruce was unveiled as the 2020 tree, the Rockefeller team got to work protecting and preparing it.

Al: We had 24-hour-a-day guards. Paula: Erik especially, he's been here every day. They'd been like family. We're gonna miss them being outside every day.

Narrator: But getting this massive spruce to the center of Manhattan is no easy task. First, it had to come out of the ground.

Erik: We came up, and we started tying it. It took us all the way to Saturday afternoon.

Narrator: Erik hired a crew of local workers to tie up the branches. That's to make sure they're secure through the cutting and the drive.

Erik: And then the crane came, and we built the crane and put the counterweights on it so that it could hold the tree.

Narrator: The crane is already attached to the tree when the workers begin cutting. Erik and his team have private property and bystanders to think about.

[chainsaw sawing]

It takes only a few minutes to saw through the massive trunk, leaving the giant tree hanging in the air.

Erik: Now we moved it over to the truck.

Narrator: The tree is laid on its side on that 115-foot-long trailer and strapped into place.

Al: The tree is gonna take a nice little trip down to New York City.

EB Kelly: Often the most complicated part is getting it right from the property where it is onto the highway.

Narrator: What is normally a 3.5-hour drive takes up to three days with a 75-foot tree!

EB: You don't want to get the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree stuck in traffic. And then of course the city of New York is always tremendously helpful with us in terms of closing the streets and making sure that we're able to have a smooth arrival into the city.

Narrator: Normally, the tree arrives to big crowds, but this year, because of COVID-19, it pulled up to an empty Rockefeller Center.

EB: We like to think that tree-arrival day is the start of the holiday season officially in New York. And certainly this has been a year unlike any other, so it felt all the more important to us to continue those traditions.

Narrator: Carefully, it's lifted off the truck, then tilted right side up and slid into the sturdy tree stand in the middle of Rockefeller Center.

Broadcaster: As if putting up the tree in Rockefeller Plaza is not enough --

Broadcaster: Crews working on the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree got a little surprise --

Broadcaster: They found a tiny owl.

Narrator: This year, workers found a little owl hidden inside the tree. And the bird went viral, as people guessed it'd hitched a ride all the way from upstate New York. He was brought safely to a shelter and named, appropriately, Rockefeller, Rocky for short.

Also blowing up the internet? The fact that the tree looked a little bare on arrival. But what might look like a scrawny tree now got a big face-lift.

CJ: This is the extension to make it nice and full.

Narrator: Over the next couple of weeks, the tree was surrounded in scaffolding. As the tree's branches settled and fluffed out, it's been reported workers also attached branch extensions to make the tree appear fuller.

CJ: We stick a hole in the tree, put the branch back in, wire it in, boom.

Spectator 1: Boom!

Spectator 2: Like a weave!

CJ: Like a weave, it's just like a weave!

Narrator: Then they draped 50,000 LED lights around it and topped it with a 900-pound Swarovski crystal star. And finally, on December 2, the Rockefeller Christmas tree is lit up. This year, through a virtual ceremony.

EB: The tree is always real. Come, you can smell it, you can see it. This year, we probably won't let you touch it, thanks to COVID, but I can assure you, it is a very real tree. We have the pine cones to prove it.

Narrator: And when it's all over?

EB: We take the lumber when it is done, and we donate to Habitat for Humanity, and it turns into homes for the future.

Paula: It's gonna be a rough season for some.

Al: At least the tree didn't get canceled.

Paula: We'll go in the history books, right?

Al: Yeah, there you go.