New York City: A Family Christmas Tradition

Life has a way of constantly evolving, and thank God it does. There is a sea (the Dead Sea) that only has streams coming into it but none going out. The result is stagnation. Yet, with a life that constantly presents new ideas and ways, we can be in danger of losing those traditions that bring special moments of warmth and joy into our lives. Fortunately one of the long-standing Christmas traditions in New York City still remains for new generations to experience and pass on to their children and grandchildren.

Growing Up In and Around New York City

I grew up in the suburbs of New York City and later lived there for 22 years. When I was a child, every year between Thanksgiving and Christmas the family would take a day and drive into the city for a day of Christmas fun. The main event of the day was to go to Radio City Music Hall for the Christmas show. Anyone who goes to Radio City today will still be able to enjoy the huge Christmas tree at the Center and see the Christmas Spectacular that features the Rockettes, Santa Claus and the Living Nativity (which is awesome). Some things however, have evolved.

Facts about the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree and Radio City Music Hall in New York City

On Christmas Eve of 1931, during the Great Depression, a group of construction workers erected the first evergreen tree as they waited on line for their paychecks. That began a tradition that continued through the years. That first tree was only 20 feet tall, while the current trees are around 65 – 70 feet tall.

Radio City Music Hall opened its doors in 1932. The interior today is considered one of the most beautiful Art Deco spaces in the world and is preserved as a landmark because of that. The theater has a pipe organ and an orchestra pit that lowers, and the orchestra and the pipe organ were also part of the show. As a child I remember how massive and impressive the Music Hall was.

The first Christmas Spectacular was on December 21, 1933. The live show at that time was only 30 minutes long. A feature film, which was always a Christmas theme movie, was shown along with the stage show up until 1979. In that year the stage show was expanded to 90 minutes in length and the feature film was dropped. In the show today, there are 14 musical numbers in all. One of the features of the stage show, then and now, is the world famous Rockettes. here are 36 dancers ranging in height from 5’6” to 5’10½”. The highlight of the show is when the Rockettes dance in synchronization to the Parade of the Wooden Soldiers. During the dance routine they perform “eye-high” kicks. This is a number that has been performed every year since 1933. It is said that in the course of each show (they average about 4-5 daily) the Rockettes do about 300 kicks in all.

The arrival of Santa Claus, which today incorporates 3-D film technology, and the Living Nativity complete with live animals, including camels, and the singing of “O Holy Night” by an archangel in the “heavens,” rounds out the features of this holiday show.

If you have never experienced Rockefeller Center and Radio City Music Hall at Christmas, you must plan a trip to New York City during the holidays. There are always so many happy memories that you will come away with when you do.