Video: The giving tree

msnbc.com
updated 11/28/2005 12:22:49 PM ET 2005-11-28T17:22:49
STORY

Its traditions date back to the early 1930s.  It served as a sign of hope during the Great Depression, a symbol of patriotism and sacrifice during World War II.  And at happier times, simply a beacon of holiday cheer -- the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree. 

The tree and its lighting have become as much an American tradition as fireworks on the 4th of July, or the ball drop on New Year's Eve.  In 1931, the first Christmas tree was placed in the muddy construction site of what would become Rockefeller Center.  And on Christmas Eve, workers gathered around that tree to collect the rare paycheck.

The family that donates this tree may not get a paycheck, but it does get a reward nearly as rare. They are people America would never get to meet, were it not for their tree.  This year, that tree belongs to Arnold Raquet of Wayne, N.J.

Raquet works in a sewage treatment facility.  When he and his wife Gloria moved into their house back in 1963, their giant Norway spruce was only eight feet tall

The Raquets didn't realize then that their tree would grow to be a world famous tree, but it did then have the potential, and that potential was nourished by Gloria Raquet, according to her husband.

"She loved it.  She loved this tree.  She kept fertilizing it.  Holes in the ground, put the fertilizer each year.  And it got bigger and bigger and bigger," Arnold Rauqet said.

Too big, in fact.  

"It got to the point where it's overlapping everything," Arnold Raquet added. "It's overlapping the house, overlapping people that live next door."

That's when the neighbors told Arnold Raquet to call up the people at the Rockefeller Center and see if they might be able to use his tree. He initially refused believing that it would never happen, but after a neighbor offered to write a letter for him on behalf of the tree, a match was made.

Gloria Raquet died a few years ago. Next year would have been the couple's 50th wedding anniversary.

"She never dreamed that it would go.  Never dreamed.  I mean, if she was alive today, she'd be so thrilled," Raquet said.

While he admits that it's been lonely without her, giving away "her" tree is a way to share their love with the world.

"It's going to a go to a good cause.  It's going to make people happy.  I mean, what greater thing can you do with a tree?  See that thing, look the way it is, it's beautiful," he said.

The Christmas season gets its unofficial kick-off in New York City with the lighting of that tree this Wednesday.  And Arnold Raquet will be front and center as one of the guests of honor.

NBC Correspondent Mike Leonard contributed this report to Coundown. Watch 'Countdown' each weeknight at 8 p.m. ET

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