New York, NY – The huge, stunning Christmas tree that appears each year at 30 Rockefeller Plaza in Midtown Manhattan in New York City, is seen by millions each year, some in person – that amount is estimated at 125 million – and others through live television broadcasts when the tree is lit at the end of November, after Thanksgiving. The current Mayor of New York City does the honor of the lighting, along with others. It remains on display until mid-January.
This tradition of having such a tree on view began in 1933, and the massive size of the tree each year is deservedly approached with awe by those who view it. The trees, usually Norway spruces, have ranged from 69 to up to 100 feet.
But what people may not realize as they are taking in the holiday sight, is what goes into creating it. Billy Haig, a union carpenter since 1999 and Shop Steward and a member of Local 157, shared with LaborPress some of the labor that he and other carpenters on the “tree team” put in each year, in what amounts to a gift to the city.
Haig grew up in Gravesend, Brooklyn, and now lives in Dyker Heights, which is also justly famous for its Christmas lights and decorations. He saw the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree as a child, and now has become one of the workers who has been working for his whole career on its construction.
“Between five and eight carpenters are in the tree at all times, working on the build-out,” he says. “Sometimes we have to re-secure the branches, make it look very perfect. Extra branches are used. They are nailed and we tie them with cable.”
But how does such a gigantic tree stay up without toppling over?
His answer: “There are stairs inside scaffolding. We climb it and do our work. You’re inside it. It’s like a treehouse!”
The tree is secured to nearby buildings with cables in four different spots, “and then the star, which is probably around three to four feet around, has its own four cables,” he adds.
There’s also “a pipe that runs down the middle of the tree that we secure,” says Haig. “The wires and cable are hooked to brackets on the buildings that are always there.”
“This tree this year is a beauty,” he adds with admiration. “Everyone’s saying that, they’re saying this is one of the best. The family who donated it sent us a thank you letter, something no one has ever done before. They were here for the lighting, got some special treatment.”
There are 50,000 lights that decorate the tree, and of course, the star.
The team of carpenters is often the same people each year; Haig, though, says he’s “never missed a year.” “I don’t have a choice,” he chuckles, “they want me here. Me and Eric, the head gardener, care a lot about the tree.”
Haig says that all the team members take the building of the tree “personally” but maybe he does, more so. “It’s fun, joy. Takes the holiday season, gets you going.”
“I got babies at home,” he adds. “I got a two-year-old, a four-year-old, so it means more. This year we will bring them to see the tree.”