Quick: what’s green, at least 65 feet tall, stands in an iconic location, and gets lit up like a Christmas tree?
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.”