A symbol of Christmas to many, both New Yorkers and non, lit up the night Wednesday evening at the Rockefeller Center's 86th annual tree lighting ceremony. Crooner Tony Bennett sang a Christmas carol. John Legend made a showstopping performance (possibly even more than his legendary mac and cheese). But this year, the towering evergreen not only induced its usual "ooh's" and "ahh's!" from a crowd of thousands; at the very top was a shiny new addition. See what makes this year's tree the brightest one yet, plus other facts to know about this world-famous seasonal monument.
1. We Have This Couple to Thank For the Tree
The magic wouldn't have happened without the help of Shirley Figueroa and Lissette Gutierrez who donated this year's evergreen. Doing so had long been a dream of Figueroa, who tended to a tree outside her home for years, hoping it would grow tall enough to stand as the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree one day. When the couple moved to their new home last summer, however, Figueroa figured her vision for the tree would have to come to a close.
But to her surprise, the home Gutierrez found for them sported its own larger-than-life Norway Spruce—and one Rockefeller Center gardener had his eye on it for the ceremony. "The previous owner mentioned that the tree was in the running, but I just assumed it was a joke—or that Lisette had whispered to him to say that, just to convince me," laughs Figueroa.
Fast forward to November 10 when the 72-foot tree bid farewell to the couple's home in Warkill, New York and traveled to Midtown, Manhattan to stand tall for its season of fame. "The Rockefeller Center Christmas tree is one of those symbols that brings people together—all races, ethnicities, religions—it's something that everyong can enjoy," said Figueroa, who has enjoyed visiting the annual spectacle with her wife for many holidays.
2. It Will Feature a New Star Topper
For the first time since the tree's traditional Swarovski star made its debut in 2004, the oh-so-sparkly topper, which took two years to complete, has been redesigned for the 2018 lighting ceremony. This new addition—measuring a whopping 9 feet and 4 inches, and weighing in at 900 pounds—features the work of world-renowned architect, Daniel Libeskind, who was also on the design team behind New York's reconstructed World Trade Center and the Jewish Museum in Berlin.
"The new Swarovski Star for the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree is inspired by the beauty of starlight—something that radiates meaning and mystery into the world," says designer Libeskind. "The Star is a symbol that represents our greatest ambitions for hope, unity and peace. I am tremendously honored to collaborate with Swarovski on the Star, and with the entire design team, to bring cutting-edge innovation and design to crystal technology."
And with its 70 spikes, that resemble a bright burst of light, the star is adorned with no less than three million Swarovski crystals! Talk about a starry night.
3. Technology Helps it to Shine Brighter than Ever
Thanks to a mix of Swarovski's double cone crystals—which illicit a brighter sparkle than single cone crystals—and the maker's innovative Active Panel technology, viewers can expect to see an extra bright glow from this year's star. With LED backlighting and crystals heat-affixed to glass, this technology helps produce greater light refraction and eye-popping brilliance.
4. You Can Take Home Your Own Swarovski Star
To share the spotlight (at eye-level, that is), Rockerfeller Plaza will also be home to a Swarovski pop-up store this year which will feature an exact replica of the twinkling tree topper. After visitors take in the entirety of the tree's colorful radiance, they can visit the replica star to examine its intricate design and sheer glamour up-close. And whether or not you opt to shop for a little sparkling something as well, or simply admire from afar, anyone paying a visit to the Rockefeller plaza this year can also officially say they’ve witnessed the glow of six million crystals in one night.
5. The Tree Will Keep on Giving
Finally, after bringing joy to the approximate 800,000 visitors expected each holiday, the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree will keep its tradition of giving back. "We are so excited that after the holidays, wood from the tree will be used to build Habitat for Humanity homes," said Figueroa. It really does feel like we're giving an incredible gift, first to New York, and second to the families who will move into the Habitat homes."
Feeling inspired? Watch how to decorate your own Christmas tree from top to bottom: