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Rockefeller Christmas tree lighting 2023: Photos and more from the NYC ceremony

Kelly Clarkson hosted the 91st celebration, featuring appearances by Cher, Barry Manilow, Keke Palmer and more celebrities.

What to know

  • For the 91st time, the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center was lit Wednesday.
  • Kelly Clarkson, who has never been shy about proclaiming her love for the season, hosted and performed.
  • NBC's "TODAY" show’s Savannah Guthrie, Hoda Kotb, Al Roker and Craig Melvin joined in the celebration.
  • Cher, Barry Manilow, Keke Palmer and others provided the festive soundtrack, and the Radio City Rockettes helped kick off the holiday season.

It's officially Christmas at Rockefeller Center

And just like that, after 91 years of tradition, the massive and iconic Rockefeller Center Christmas tree has been lit, officially ringing in the Christmas spirit from New York and around the world.

2023 Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony holiday
A view of the lit tree during the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree lighting ceremony in New York City on Wednesday.Arturo Holmes / Getty Images

The 80-foot Norwegian spruce is adorned with about 50,000 lights, which totals about 5 miles of wire.

On top, a 3D Swarovski star covered in 30 million crystals twinkled in the night as the Christmas special came to a close.

New York Mayor Eric Adams helped flip the switch that illuminates the tree while the Young People's Chorus from New York City sang "Joy to the World."

The tree hails from New York and stands 80 feet tall

This year's iconic tree is an 80-foot-tall Norway spruce that measures 43 feet wide and weighs 12 tons.

It's somewhere between 80 and 85 years old and hails from Vestal, New York, near Binghamton.

There are about 50,000 lights — which means about 5 miles of wire — on the tree.

And on top? A 3D Swarovski star that weighs 900 pounds and features 70 spikes covered in 3 million crystals.

Cher, Darlene Love duet 60 years after Cher sang backup for her

When Darlene Love first recorded "Christmas, Baby," Cher sang backup vocals for her.

So when Cher decided to include a cover of the hit on her own Christmas album, she asked Love to return the favor.

Tonight, the pair got to perform the song live together for the first time.

The Rockettes help kick off the holiday season

It’s not Christmas until the Rockettes bring their high kicks to the plaza.

The Rockettes journeyed down the block to join the Christmas tree lighting and perform a number from their famed "Christmas Spectacular."

They were wrapped up in candy cane-inspired costumes for the performance.

One man has been sourcing Rockefeller Center's Christmas trees for the past 30 years

Erik Pauze, Rockefeller Center’s head gardener since 1995, is tasked every year with picking out the perfect tree for the plaza.

He scopes out the entire northeast, which he told the "TODAY" show last year is like "a massive tree lot."

Pauze has high criteria for the perfect tree: It has to be a Norway spruce that is at least 70 feet tall and 40 to 42 feet wide, he told TODAY.com last year. It also has to be big and stable enough to support the weight of the wires, cables and lights and, of course, the star atop the tree.

"I look for that big, beautiful shape, nice and green, nice and full, a tree that you would want in your living room for Christmas," he said in 2022.

This year, he saw the spruce towering over the upstate New York home of Matt and Jackie McGinley, who later decided to donate their tree to Rockefeller Center in spirit of the holidays, TODAY.com reported.

The tree was then carted almost 200 miles by truck to arrive at 30 Rock on Nov. 11.

Keke Palmer goes classic for a classic

Keke Palmer comes back with a second performance — and a wardrobe change. She went with a classic white, beaded gown to sing "The Christmas Song," the classic from 1945.

Accompanying her was Adam Blackstone on the upright bass.

Earlier in the night, Palmer wore a furry red getup while she and Blackstone performed "Christmas Kisses."

Chloe Bailey is giving 'Santa Baby'

Chloe Bailey was dressed for the season while performing Wham's "Last Christmas" in a pared-down Santa Claus outfit that made her look like a "Santa Baby."

Bailey turned the oversized red-and-white getup into a little red dress featuring white fur trimmings — and even white fur hoop earrings.

Cher's backup dancers are ready for New Year's Eve

In sparkling silver dresses and matching knee-high boots, Cher's backup dancers looked like they were ready to ring in the New Year rather than decorate the Christmas tree.

Host Kelly Clarkson jammed out while Cher took the stage to perform her new Christmas single, "DJ Play a Christmas Song."

"She put out a Christmas jam!" Clarkson exclaimed. "That is my favorite song in a very long time."

First lady is in the holiday spirit, too

First lady Jill Biden is feeling festive.

She opened the White House skating rink, ringing in holiday cheer as a series of entertainers performed on the rink. She officially opened the rink by dropping a puck alongside Olympic ice skater Brian Boitano.

During the program, the first lady reflected on her memories of ice skating on river canals in Delaware with her sisters, according to a pool report.

"That’s how children often see the world this time of year: with magic, wonder, and joy," she said. "And that’s what inspired our White House holiday theme."

"What’s more magical, wonderful, and joyful than an ice rink on the South Lawn of the White House?"

Boitano emceed the event, also skating to the song "Christmastime is Here." The beloved Peanuts character Snoopy also made an appearance on the rink, according to a pool report.

A mini 'American Idol' reunion

Katharine McPhee performed tonight, joining host and fellow "American Idol" alum Kelly Clarkson.

McPhee and Clarkson both got their starts on the famed singing competition, but not in the same season.

Singing a rendition of "Santa Baby," McPhee was accompanied by her husband, David Foster, on the piano.

Country comes to town with Carly Pearce

Country singer Carly Pearce adds a little twang to the tinsel with her rendition of "Man With the Bag."

singer country 2023 Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony
Carly Pearce performs at the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree lighting ceremony in New York City on Wednesday.Arturo Holmes / Getty Images

She was introduced by Trisha Yearwood, who also helped induct the Grammy Award-winner into the Grand Ole Opry.

The family behind this year’s Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree

The McGinley family, which donated the 80-foot Norway spruce that's the star of tonight's show, share more about its journey from Vestal, New York, to the plaza.

Manuel Turizo hits the spot with first Rockefeller performance and polka dot coat

Manuel Turizo joined the tree lighting ceremony for the first time with his rendition of "Feliz Navidad" dressed for the season in a festive red and pink polka dot coat.

“When I was made aware of the opportunity, it was a no-brainer to get to be part of the iconic Rockefeller Tree Lighting alongside some great acts!” the Colombian singer told American Songwriter.

Move over Mariah

Barry Manilow is stepping into Mariah Carey's holiday spotlight at tonight's tree lighting, performing her Christmas classic, "All I Want for Christmas Is You."

Image: Barry Manilow
Barry Manilow performs at the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree lighting ceremony in New York on Wednesday.Charles Sykes / Invision/AP

Manilow's spin: a jazzier and slower rendition more in line with his typical sound.

Kelly Clarkson kicks it off

Kelly Clarkson kicked off tonight's Rockefeller Center tree lighting ceremony with a performance of "Underneath the Tree," clad in a fuzzy white coat fit for the holiday season.

performance singer Rockefeller center
Kelly Clarkson performs at the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree lighting ceremony in New York on Wednesday.Angela Weiss / AFP - Getty Images

Clarkson, a self-proclaimed Christmas lover, said she "loves" the holiday "and celebrates it most of the year."

"Nothing gets bigger than this!" she said.

Clarkson has put out two Christmas albums in her decadeslong career: 2013’s “Wrapped in Red” and 2021’s “When Christmas Comes Around...”

Other Christmas trees making news this week

The Rockefeller tree may be getting all of the attention tonight, but yesterday it was a tree in the nation's capital making headlines. Strong winds in the Washington, D.C., area caused the National Christmas tree to topple over yesterday, the National Park Service said.

The 40-foot tree from Monongahela National Forest in West Virginia, which sits near the White House, was quickly turned upright. The snapped cable securing the tree has been replaced.

The lighting ceremony for the Norway spruce will take place tomorrow.

Pro-Palestinian rally unfolding not far from tree

A large crowd of people waving Palestinian flags gathered in Manhattan not far from where the Rockefeller Christmas tree lighting ceremony was to take place.

Video showed a large police presence on 6th Avenue at 48th Street, as well as barricades.

The demonstrators were about a block away the Rockefeller Christmas tree, where a tree lighting ceremony was to start at 7 p.m.

A star-studded lineup ready to usher in the season

In addition to the main event — the lighting of the 80-foot Norway spruce that will adorn the Rockefeller Center plaza until January — hit artists will offer Christmas performances throughout the two-hour event.

Musical performances are planned by Cher, Barry Manilow, Chloe Bailey, Adam Blackstone, David Foster, Liz Gillies, Darlene Love, Seth MacFarlane, Katharine McPhee, Keke Palmer, Carly Pearce and Manuel Turizo.

The Rockettes will also perform a number from their "Christmas Spectacular."

Rockefeller Center has been lighting a Christmas tree since 1933

Rockefeller Center's first Christmas tree lighting officially took place in 1933, but two years previously, a group of Rockefeller Center workers all chipped in to buy a 20-foot tree for the area, decorated with homemade garlands, marking the first-ever tree.

The famed ice rink was introduced in 1936, along with two trees. But as World War II rolled in a few years later, tree decorations became more modest, and in 1942, three smaller trees were lit in lieu of one huge tree.

The 1950s saw the introduction of using scaffolding to decorate the tree — a process that required 20 men and nine days before the decade was out.

In 1997, the tree, which was from Stony Point, New York, traveled by barge down the Hudson River to 30 Rock. The next year's tree, from Richfield, Ohio, was flown to New York City on the world’s largest transport plane.

Rockefeller Center's largest-ever tree, 100 feet tall, stood on the plaza in 1999. And in 2001, people from around the world visited the tree, decorated in patriotic red, white and blue.

The Swarovski Star with 25,000 crystals
The Swarovski Star with 25,000 crystals tops the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree, in New York, in 2004.Stan Honda / AFP via Getty Images file

The first Swarovski crystal star topped Rockefeller Center's tree in 2004. The one used today was created in 2018.

Bundle up, because it will feel like the upper 20s

The weather for the tree lighting tonight will be clear but cool, with just enough bite in the air to add a festive chill to the ceremony.

From 7 to 10 p.m. ET, temperatures will be in the mid- to upper 30s. Those temps, combined with southwesterly winds at 8 to 10 mph, will make it feel more like the upper 20s at the time of the lighting.

As tree lightning weather goes, tonight’s cold but clear forecast will be “sparkling,” just like the 30 Rock tree when it gets lit just before 10 p.m. ET.

Kelly Clarkson made first tree lighting appearance 20 years ago

Kelly Clarkson, the host of the 2023 Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree Lighting, made her tree lighting debut 20 years ago.

Clarkson has performed at the tree lighting ceremony a number of times over the last two decades. Her first appearance on the Christmas plaza was in a performance at the event 20 years ago, she said on "The Kelly Clarkson Show" last month.

"I am stoked to reveal that I am getting the chance to do it again and this time at my new home at 30 Rock," she said.

In addition to her hosting duties, Clarkson is expected to perform throughout the two-hour special.

NYPD ramps up presence because of a possible protest

New York police are anticipating a pro-Gaza rally around 6 p.m. ahead of the annual Rockefeller Center Christmas tree lighting ceremony.

The group is calling on its supporters to “Flood The Tree Lighting for Gaza,” prompting the NYPD to increase its uniformed and plainclothes presence beyond what is already laid on for a heavily secured event.

Police officials have said that they will not tolerate any destruction or violence and that they plan to use department drones to monitor crowds and make sure there are no disturbances.

The NYPD has said the city is in a “heightened threat environment” tied to the Israel-Gaza war, but it says there are no specific or credible plots threatening the city and specifically the tree lighting.