Devon Price, Entergy Corporation’s nuclear fleet outage services director, works out of the company’s headquarters in Jackson, Miss. He and his family own property in Elkton, Md., which was where a stranger knocked on his front door. “He said he was an arborist and has a keen eye for gorgeous trees, and he asked if he could take a look at the Norway spruce behind the house,” Price recalled.
The request: No problem, Price said, and they went into the backyard to view the 79-foot tree with branches that spread to a 46-foot diameter at the base. Gradually, the man revealed who he was: Erik Pauzé, head gardener at Rockefeller Center in New York City.
“He said, ‘Ever hear of the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree? What would you think of letting this one go?’” Price recalled. Pauzé explained that it would be a donation and “would be a pretty big deal,” Price said.
A discussion: After Pauzé left, the Price family discussed whether they wanted to provide the most famous Christmas tree in the world. Price’s wife, Julie, wasn’t sure she wanted the attention, and their son, Wes, and daughter, Natalie, were also reluctant. But after talking it over, the decision was made to move forward.
Tradition: The Rockefeller Center Christmas tree tradition is 90 years old. Workers constructing the office building complex during the Depression erected the first tree in 1931—a 20-foot balsam fir decorated with strings of cranberries and paper garlands made by the workers’ families. The first official tree–a 50-foot balsam fir–was raised two years later.
During World War II, the tree was unlit due to blackout regulations. After the attacks on September 11, 2001, the tree was decorated in hues of red, white, and blue. In 2019, more than half a million people passed by the tree during the month it was on display. In 2020, due to the pandemic, there were no crowds at the tree.
The tree: Every December, a tree is raised in front of 30 Rockefeller Plaza, home of the NBC television network, and stands over the famous ice-skating rink and the golden statue of Prometheus.
The Price family considered other factors. “The tree is 85 to 90 years old, over 30 years on our property. We have lost at least 10 large trees due to snow, wind, ice, and heavy rains, and it’s pretty close to the house,” Price said.
In mid-April, a team of arborists began feeding the tree biweekly with 800 gallons of nutrients. In mid-October, the team started piping water to the top of the tree every two weeks to soften the branches in preparation for wrapping and moving. The crew also placed mulch around the tree and collected fallen spruce cones, since people often want a souvenir, Price said.
Moving the 12-ton object on a massive flatbed truck 150 miles to New York will be a huge undertaking. “They were putting rigging plans together at that point, planning how to get it out of the neighborhood,” Price said. Even when the branches are bent toward the top and the tree is tied, it is about 14 feet in diameter.
The decoration: Once the tree is raised in New York City, it will be decorated with 50,000 multicolored LED lights and topped with a giant Swarovski crystal star. On December 1, the lights will be turned on at the end of a two-hour live entertainment show nationally televised by NBC.
When the tree comes down in early January, its branches will be mulched for use in New York City parks, and its trunk will be milled for lumber and donated to Habitat for Humanity. The tree was scheduled to be cut down on November 11 and delivered to New York City on November 13.
Price and his family have been invited to New York for the tree raising and again for the tree lighting on December 1. “It’s funny,” he said. “I have never watched the tree lighting on TV, and I’ve only been to Rockefeller Center once at Christmas.”
This time, Price and his family are going as tree VIPs and will appear on NBC’s Today show.