Photos: The Storied History of the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree

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The Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree had modest beginnings.


It’s one of the iconic images of Christmas, but it didn’t start out that way. Take a look back at the tree’s humble beginnings.

While the Rockefeller Center tree is an elaborate affair today, it had an unassuming start. In 1931, a group of construction workers erected a 20-ft. tree adorned with tin cans and scrap paper. As the years went on, the tree got bigger, and bigger, and bigger. And the decorations got more and more (and more) grandiose.

(Find out 10 Things You Didn’t Know About the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree.)

The tree is now adorned with an estimated $1.5 million star made of 25,000 crystals, and the 30,000 LED lights alternate from solid, radiant colors to a flickering, illuminating silver. The ceremony itself attracts thousands and virtually shuts down the entire area in Midtown Manhattan.

The history of tree, traditionally a Norway Spruce, is also full of surprises, including the protester who climbed it in 1979, the tree’s television debut, and the evolving methods of how it is found every year. Read TIME’s history of the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree here.