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Eternal City

Let’s All Marvel at the Giant Tree We Murdered And Dragged Into Midtown Manhattan

A Norway spruce might live 300 years or longer, but this one would have to die.

A wide view of the spectacularly lit Rockefeller Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony in Rock Center in 2018.

The Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center on Wednesday, November 28, 2018. (Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)

As we draw closer to the end of December, the time has come to travel to the center of the most densely populated place in North America and gaze upon a massive living thing that has been killed and festooned with lights for our pleasure. Because tonight is the lighting of the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree. 

Earlier this month, a man walked into the woods in Queensbury, New York, and looked at the living organism that he would soon destroy. He has been in the business of killing for 34 years, and constantly scans the landscape, choosing his victim carefully. Eventually, he found a Norway spruce that was 82 feet tall, and roughly 95 years old—a 14-ton monument to nature.

For months, the man visited the tree, watered it, and convinced its previous human steward that it would be better for everyone if he were allowed to chop it down. A Norway spruce might live 300 years or longer, but this one would die. The man felled the tree, and its long funeral procession began. "We have a job to do and we just get down and do it," the man said after he had ended the tree's life.

It's been this way since 1931, when a group of people working for the family of an oil baron—the richest man to ever walk the earth—chipped in and bought a tree and put it in Midtown. The oil baron's family quickly saw the value in such a symbol, and in 1933, the tree lighting ceremony as we know it began.

The corpse of this year's tree has been wrapped in 50,000 lights, and topped with a 900-pound star designed by a world-famous architect. A team of workers were hired and permits were obtained to operate a large crane and heavy machinery to put the decorations on. The simple beauty of a huge tree, alone amidst the city, is not enough to move our hearts. 

Tonight's tree lighting ceremony will begin at 8 p.m., broadcast live across the world. Pop stars like Gwen Stefani and Blake Shelton will sing in front of the massacred tree. Hosts of a morning TV show will talk about how beautiful the tree looks. The Muppets are also scheduled to participate. In the coming weeks, hundreds of thousands of people will travel to Midtown to see the tree for themselves, to be near the tree. Such is their frenzy for the tree that roads must be blocked off for their safety. 

Perhaps that is because the vast majority of Christmas trees on display are artificial. Not this one. This one used to be alive.

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