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From backyard colossus to Midtown jewel: Journey of the Rock Center Christmas tree

See the transformation as a tree from humble roots becomes a celebrated Christmas symbol.

In a ceremony dating to 1933, the Rockefeller Center tree was lit Wednesday night, completing the metamorphosis of a backyard giant into one of the world's most famous Christmas trees.

Construction workers pooled their money in 1931 to buy the first tree to grace the plaza, a 20-foot high balsam fir with garlands made by their families. Rockefeller Center decided to make the tree an annual tradition and the first tree-lighting was two years later.

Image: Rockefeller tree
Construction workers line up to get paid beside the first Rockefeller Center Christmas tree on Christmas Eve in 1931. AP

This year an 82-foot tall, 14-ton Norway Spruce made a 200-mile journey to New York City on a flatbed truck.

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Residents look on as the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree is guided onto a flatbed truck in Queensbury, N.Y., on Nov. 10.Diane Bondareff / AP Images for Tishman Speyer
Rockefeller Center Christmas tree
Workers steady the tree after its arrival in Rockefeller Center on Nov. 12. Craig Ruttle / AP
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A rigger prepares the tree for craning. Diane Bondareff / AP Images for Tishman Speyer

The tree, whose lower branches extend 50 feet in diameter, will be aglow with 50,000 multicolored lights and topped with a 900-pound star covered in 3 million crystals.

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Neil Lebowitz, whose family donated the tree, drives a spike into the trunk.Diane Bondareff / AP Images for Tishman Speyer
Workers prepare The Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree
NDZ/STAR MAX/IPx
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Diane Bondareff / AP Images for Tishman Speyer

The tree will be lit daily from 6 a.m. until midnight and after the holidays will be milled into lumber for donation to Habitat for Humanity.

Hoda Kotb and Craig Melvin high five after the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree was lit during the 90th annual lighting ceremony, Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2022, in New York.
A musical performance during the 90th annual lighting of the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree Wednesday.Julia Nikhinson / AP
The Rockefeller Center Christmas tree
Julia Nikhinson / AP
Image: Christmas Tree at Rockefeller Center
A couple take in the scene after the lighting of the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree in 1962.Bettmann Archive