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This article is from the In-Depth Report Science and the Holidays

What Happens to the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree After the Holidays?

This year's tree in midtown Manhattan, like last year's, will go toward building Habitat for Humanity housing
Rockefeller, Norway spruce, Christmas



Image courtesy of Urban

Most people who celebrate Christmas can drag their holiday tree to the curb (literally) when they're done with it. Needless to say, it will be a bit more difficult to get rid of the eight-ton, 72-foot (22-meter) Norway spruce now gracing New York City's Rockefeller Center. So what's to become of this year's piney green giant when it's hauled from its pedestal on January 9? It will be donated to Habitat for Humanity International to furnish wood for some of the Americus, Ga.–based nonprofit organization's house-building projects next year.

Habitat hasn't identified a specific project for the 77-year-old tree, but Duane Bates, the organization's director of public and media relations, says it will likely be used for construction of one of its houses. Habitat harvested last year's 84-foot- (26-meter-) tall Norway spruce Christmas tree to provide two-by-fours for a house in Pascagoula, Miss., for assistant teacher Tracey Davison and her four daughters, whose home was destroyed in 2005 by Hurricane Katrina.

Tishman Speyer Properties, the company that owns Rockefeller Plaza, began working with Habitat in 2005, Bates says. That year, Tishman Speyer hosted a demonstration in the plaza during which Habitat for Humanity volunteers framed walls that were later shipped to the Gulf Coast to help rebuild homes damaged by Katrina. Tishman Speyer donated its first tree to the organization last year.

Prior to 2007 most retired Rockefeller Center Christmas trees were ground into about three tons of mulch donated to the Boy Scouts of America for them to sell and use the proceeds to fund a variety of projects. Each year, however, the largest portion of the trunk was donated to the U.S. Olympic Equestrian Team headquarters in Gladstone, N.J., where it was used as an obstacle jump for the horses and their riders.

All of the Rockefeller evergreens have been donated, and this year's—which is festooned with more than 30,000 LED lights and five miles (eight kilometers) of wiring—was given to Tishman Speyer by the family of the late Joseph and Mary Varanyak from the property around former home in Hamilton Township, N.J. Their son, Bob Varanyak, 72, told New Jersey's The Star-Ledger last month, "My mother, most of all, wanted this. She always said this tree will be in Rockefeller Center." The tree arrived in Manhattan on November 14 and was erected and decorated for the December 3 lighting ceremony.

The first official Rockefeller Center Christmas tree went up in 1933 (although workers building the complex had also put up a tree in 1931). Rockefeller's trees must be at least 65 feet (19.8 meters) tall and 35 feet (10.7 meters) wide, and most are  more than 50 years old.

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