America's Tallest Christmas Trees
Yes, it’s the Christmas tree—one of America’s tallest and perhaps its most-photographed—that hovers over New York’s Rockefeller Center. This year, the tree will rise a whopping 74 feet into the air and be lit on November 30 with great fanfare.
When it comes to our cherished symbols of Christmas, few towering, twinkling firs can rival Rockefeller Center’s yearly display of yuletide cheer. But some of them succeed, at least when it comes to height: America’s tallest Christmas trees can top 100 feet. And they make for fun stopovers during the holiday travel season.
You’ll often find these trees in unlikely places. For nearly 20 years during the 1970s and ’80s, for example, National Enquirer owner Generoso Pope placed trees in excess of 100 feet next to the tabloid’s offices near Palm Beach, FL. In 1979, Pope’s holiday tree reached nearly 120 feet tall and was promptly listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the “World’s Largest Decorated Christmas Tree.”
When Pope died in 1988, so did his tradition. But across the U.S., communities of all sizes continue to celebrate by decorating the tallest trees they can find. Often these trees are identified for cutting and purchased a year or more in advance, sometimes cut at great municipal expense, and transported across the country on wide flatbed trucks.
Though tree decorators don’t agree on which breed is best for public display, the experts at Rockefeller Center claim the Norway spruce is unmatched—thanks to the dense, dark-green needles and branches that droop gracefully over the pyramid-shaped body. The spectacularly decorated tree in Manhattan’s midtown is always at least 65 feet high and 35 feet wide and, some years, exceeds 100 feet in height.
These tall Christmas trees are highly valued by civic party planners across the country, but not every mammoth evergreen is destined to be chopped down and hauled away. America’s tallest living Christmas tree looms proudly over the picturesque grounds of Idaho’s Coeur d’Alene resort, where each year visitors gather to enjoy a dependably white Christmas. At 161 feet tall (and counting), it’s taller by twice than most city trees. It’s so big that the star on top is more than 10 feet tall—larger than the tree most people keep in their living rooms.
But snow is not a prerequisite for staging a popular Christmas tree show. This year, two majestic 100-foot-tall white firs were trucked down from northern California’s Mount Shasta to Los Angeles County and adorned with 10,000 lights and 15,000 decorations—apiece. The lighting ceremonies will include fake snowfall and real fireworks. It’s not the most traditional of Christmas celebrations, but this is Los Angeles, after all.
Only the biggest cities can afford to transport and maintain these giant firs, but size isn’t really the point. Tree lightings represent “a moment of togetherness and true unity,” says Alexandra Lewis, author of The Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree, “a moment in which hope and happiness win out over bitterness or worry, when togetherness wins out over partisanship.”
The Tree at Coeur d’Alene Resort, Idaho
Height: 161 feet (and growing)
Alas, neither Rockefeller Center nor Washington, D.C. can lay claim to America’s tallest Christmas tree. Rather, a little-known resort in Idaho called Coeur d’Alene has those bragging rights. At a whopping 161 feet, this record-holding grand fir is the tallest living Christmas tree in America. It’s so huge that the star on top is itself 10 feet tall. That’s bigger than the tree most people keep in their living rooms.
The Tree at "Victorian Village" Ferndale, CA
Height: 150 feet
Tree Lighting Ceremony: December 5
Year-round, the self-described "Victorian Village" of Ferndale, CA, looks like it was lifted from a Norman Rockwell painting. This hamlet in Humboldt County, near the state's famous Redwoods, is prized by film directors for its well-preserved 19th-century architecture. Every winter since 1934, the fire department has decorated the spruce that grows at the end of Main Street. Can't get there this season? There's always next year. As an historical landmark, the town isn't looking to change its traditions anytime soon.
The Outlets at Anthem, Arizona
Height: 110 feet
That's right—the country's tallest cut Christmas tree isn't found in New York City, D.C., or Chicago. This year, the suburb of Anthem, just north of Phoenix, claims to have the nation's tallest tree. Its 110-foot white fir-imported from California-is decorated with two miles of lights and more than 3,000 ornaments. It took 14 workers to put this massive evergreen in place. Now through Christmas, Santa will greet visitors at his cottage next to the tree.
The Americana at Brand & the Grove at Farmers Market, Los Angeles
Height: 100 feet (each)
Southern California will never have a white Christmas, but that’s not stopping area residents from showing off some of the country’s tallest trees. Thanks to favorable growing conditions on Mt. Shasta, near the state's border with Oregon, SoCal's shopping centers have ready access to 100-foot white firs that make Rockefeller Center's tree look puny. The finest are the twins on display at the Grove at Farmers Market near West Hollywood and in nearby Glendale. Each is adorned with 10,000 lights and 15,000 decorations.
Mayor’s Christmas Tree at Crown Center Square, Kansas City, MO
Height: 100 feet
In many cities, the town's tallest Christmas tree is bought, decorated, and hosted by a local business—often a shopping mall. In Kansas City, mayor Mark Funkhouser takes pride in being responsible for the tree that bears his office's name. "No other city does it the way we do it," he said after flipping the switch on for 7,200 lights covering the Mayor’s Christmas Tree, a 100-foot Douglas fir. "At moments like that, I feel very proud to be the mayor of Kansas City.”
Toledo Zoo's Christmas Tree
Height: 85 feet
For 25 years, the Toledo Zoo has hosted the city's biggest holiday party, Lights Before Christmas. Not only is their resident Norway spruce taller than Rockefeller Center's, it's decorated with more lights: some 35,000. To encourage energy conservation, the zoo is using LED lights. They've also rigged two bicycles to the energy grid, allowing visitors to help light the grounds using pedal power. With 120,000 visitors expected, they shouldn't have any problem keeping the lights on.
Faneuil Hall Tree, Boston
Height: 85 feet
Since the 1940s, Bostonians have gathered on the Boston Common to watch the mayor flip on the seasonal lights. But the city's tallest tree is actually on display a sleigh’s ride away, in front of Faneuil Hall Marketplace. This year, revelers will be treated to a gigantic 85-foot-tall tree—plus bell-ringers, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and a cappella choirs. Taken together, Faneuil Hall and the nearby Common will brighten Beantown with more than one million seasonal lights.
Portland's Christmas Tree at Pioneer Square
Height: 75 feet
Oregonians found their state's Christmas tree the subject of national headlines when an area teen was arrested for allegedly planning to detonate a car bomb during the popular lighting ceremony. Fortunately, the celebration went off as planned, and their towering 75-foot-tall Douglas fir now shines brightly in Pioneer Square. This year's tree was grown in nearby Gaston, OR, and is the eighth donation from Stimson, a locally owned lumber company.
Rockefeller Center, New York
Height: 74 feet
When it comes to iconic status, Rockefeller Center’s Christmas tree—usually a Norway spruce—has no rival. (Well, except for the White House’s smaller National Christmas Tree, which has more glitz than girth.) Its size is in full accordance with its fame. Chosen trees must be at least 65 feet tall and 35 feet wide. Though recent years have seen 100-footers, this year’s unofficial national tree is “just” 74 feet tall. Still, it’s one of the country’s most cherished symbols of the season. Gawk in person at the 78th Annual Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony, held a few days after Thanksgiving.
Houston City Hall Holiday Tree
Height: 70 feet
Every holiday season, Houston unveils the Lone Star State’s tallest Christmas tree in front of City Hall. This year, the Mayor’s Holiday Celebration tree is a 70-foot white fir, sourced from a snowcapped mountainside north of Medford, OR. It’s believed that trees grow better in this particular area due to superior soil quality, better exposure to sunlight, and more moisture. At this year’s celebration, Santa and Mayor Annise Parker will turn on the lights together.
Daley Plaza Christmas Tree, Chicago
Height: 70 feet
On the day before Thanksgiving, the Windy City will perform its 97th Annual Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony, a longstanding tradition that draws huge crowds to Daley Plaza in the downtown Loop district. Chicago’s tree traditionally exceeds 60 feet, but this year’s 70-footer is “very big for us,” as one city spokesperson put it. The tree is surrounded at ground level by a “Christkindlmarket”—inspired by the famous 16th-century Nuremberg Christmas market.
U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree
Height: 67 feet
Tree Lighting Ceremony: December 7
Not to be confused with the National Christmas Tree, in the Ellipse park behind the White House (lit with great ceremony by members of the First Family), the U.S. Capitol Tree is much taller than its cousin across town. A tradition since 1963, when a live 24-foot Douglas fir was planted and decorated (that tree died in 1968), the Capitol tree is always D.C.’s tallest. This year, Wyoming contributed its first Capitol tree—an 83-year-old Engelmann spruce described by one local reporter as the tree “you’d want for your living room—if you had 70-foot ceilings.”
Michigan State Tree, Lansing
Height: 65 feet
Choosing the state's official Christmas tree is "a yearlong project," says Denny Olson of Michigan's Association of Timbermen, one of three groups that handle the hunt. This year, the winning tree is 65-foot white spruce grown by Rudy and Ruth Maki of Iron Mountain, MI. When it was felled in November, the tree was 68 years old and 30 feet wide at the bottom. It's now on display at the state capital, Lansing.
Macy’s Great Tree, Atlanta
Height: 62 feet
The lighting of Macy’s Great Tree, known to earlier generations as Rich’s Great Tree, is Atlanta’s most famous Christmas tradition. Since 1948, a towering cut eastern white pine has been chosen a year in advance and erected atop the Macy’s department store. The tree is a sight to behold, with miles of wiring that holds lights, ornaments, and mirrors—and a throbbing strobe light. This year’s tree came from a private property in Ocoee, TN, and was felled on November 11.
San Francisco’s Pier 39 Holiday Tree
Height: 60 feet
The traditional Christmas tree lighting gets a multicultural twist on San Francisco’s Pier 39, where the heavily decorated tree—this year, 60 feet tall—commemorates Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa. Los Angeles’s dual white firs are taller, so Frisco’s tree can claim only to be northern California’s tallest. Seasonal songs are performed live, and Santa is even around to take gift requests—no matter what holiday you plan to celebrate.
Westlake Center Tree, Seattle
Height: 60 feet
Seattle’s city officials are unlikely to forget the 60-foot Douglas fir they installed at the Westlake Center in 2007. With its top missing and many branches broken, the donated evergreen was immediately derided as a “Charlie Brown Christmas Tree,” in honor of the sad sapling immortalized in A Charlie Brown Christmas. The city learned its lesson. This year, Seattleites can expect a healthy, attractive tree—grown locally, no less—that reaches 60 feet into the cold Washington sky.
The Gateway's Christmas Tree, Salt Lake City
Height: 50 feet
Like many of the country's tallest Christmas trees, Salt Lake City's is hosted at a popular shopping center. This year, the Gateway mall is proudly displaying a brightly lit 49-foot-tall pine. There's also the Old World Christmas Market, modeled after the holiday markets found in Europe.
The National Tree in Washington, DC
Height: 42 feet
National Christmas Tree Lighting December 9
When the Colorado Blue Spruce that currently sits on the Ellipse park behind the White House was planted in 1978, it was 15 years old and just 30 feet tall. It has since grown to nearly 42 feet, an impressive height—but still a pipsqueak when compared to the country's other towering trees. Nonetheless, its lighting ceremony is one of America's hottest Christmas events. If you don't have your ticket, it's probably too late—tickets for the general public have already been awarded via online lottery.