The history of Christmas in New York City

By Jacqueline Franco

With trees lit, ice skates tied, and Rockettes kicking, Christmas has returned to New York City (NYC) once again.  Long-held traditions further the holiday cheer that occupies Manhattan every December.  Home to many anticipated annual holiday celebrations, NYC has defined itself as the premier tourist destination during the holiday season.

In December 1931, Rockefeller Center employees gathered to raise money for a Christmas tree, according to Since its original 20 foot tree, Rockefeller Center has hosted trees spanning from 69 to 100 feet.

Rockefeller Center hosts its first Christmas tree in 1931

The inaugural lighting of the Rockefeller Christmas tree marks the start of the Christmas season as New Yorkers and people from different countries gather to share holiday joy. The illumination of the Christmas tree became an official annual tradition in 1936, according to  The event became televised in 1951, requiring a more ornate tree for its now national audience.

Underneath the Rockefeller Christmas Tree lies

the Rink at Rockefeller Center. The ice skating rink opened on Christmas Day in 1936. Many famous ice skaters and celebrities have traveled to enjoy the merry ambiance of the Rink, in addition to the approximately 250,000 people who visit annually.

The extravagant displays in the windows of famous department stores further the whimsical Christmas atmosphere in Manhattan. From Saks Fifth Avenue and Bergdorf Goodman to Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s, stores in NYC make a special effort to draw customers in during the holidays.

On Thirty-Fourth Street in Herald Square stands the Macy’s department store where this tradition originated in 1874.

In 1925, a British dance troupe called “The Tillers” inspired Mr. Russell Market, a Missouri-based choreographer, to form the Missouri Rockettes. They distinguished themselves with their precise choreography and glamour, which continues to attract audiences to their shows.  The group traveled to NYC to perform as the Roxyettes at the Roxy Theater. They performed their first show at Radio City Music Hall on December 27th, 1932.

Two years after their debut at Radio City, the dance troupe officially became the Radio City Music Hall Rockettes. Almost a century after its founding, their Christmas Spectacular Show has become part of the NYC Christmas experience.  The current dancers widely appreciate the Rockettes history. When speaking with Rockette Mara Ranson about a memory from one of her favorite performances, Corey Whalen, a ten-year Rockette veteran, recognized the social influence of the group over history.

“Right before, they showed a video going through the history of the Rockettes. Hearing those words as we went up the beautiful staircase, we felt like we were carrying on this amazing legacy,” Whalen said, “The Rockettes have been at Radio City since 1932 and are still such a part of NYC culture. I meet families who come to the show every year, and they’ve seen the evolution of the Rockettes over time.”

(Text Courtesy: King Street Chronicle)

Images courtesy of King Street Chronicle, NYHistory, Rockefeller Center, Explorest and Shapes

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