From Shade to Shelter
The Carpenter’s Gift highlights the transformation of the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree.
Each year, the magic of the most famous Christmas tree in the world lives long past the holiday season.
After the festivities are finished, the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree is milled into lumber that Habitat for Humanity volunteers use to help build simple, decent homes with families that desperately need them — families like the one at the center of the new children’s book The Carpenter’s Gift.
Written by David Rubel in collaboration with Habitat and illustrated by Jim LaMarche, The Carpenter’s Gift tells the story of Henry, a young boy in Depression-era New York whose wish for a decent home comes true in an unexpected way. The book shares a lesson about the importance of helping our neighbors and celebrates a real-world partnership that enables Habitat supporters and volunteers to do exactly that.
On the following pages, you’ll learn about the making of The Carpenter’s Gift. And you can find more information and activities at habitat.org/thecarpentersgift.
But first, it all begins with the journey of a very special tree.
In 1931, men working on the excavation for Rockefeller Center put up the site’s first Christmas tree. The workers decorated a 20-foot balsam fir using garlands made by their families and the tinfoil ends of blasting caps. The site of their celebration was situated on the same area of the plaza where the tree is now raised each year.
In 1933, Rockefeller Center decided a tree would be the perfect way to celebrate the Center, and an annual tradition was born.
The 1986 Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree was planted at the same time that work on the Center began in 1931.
Rockefeller Center works with the families that donate their trees to replace them and replenish the landscape.
Rockefeller Center Christmas trees are always Norwegian spruce trees. Among the sought-for characteristics that make the perfect tree:
- A height of 75 to 100 feet
- A width proportional to the tree’s height
- Branches of small diameter with an upward growth angle
- Dense and healthy foliage
- An “it” factor — that indefinable character, personality or star quality that draws people
An estimated 500,000 people visit Rockefeller Center to see the Christmas tree each day during the holiday season.
Each branch is individually wrapped in lights to achieve the tree’s dazzling effect. There are no other ornaments except for the star that sits atop the tree.
Once the trees come down after the holidays, the trunks are milled into lumber that Tishman Speyer, the owner and operator of Rockefeller Center, donates to Habitat.
This year, some pieces of the tree that couldn’t be turned into lumber have been used to make special paper for a commemorative bookplate that can be placed inside copies of The Carpenter’s Gift.
“People probably say, ‘It’s done; the tree is gone,’” says Habitat homeowner Iveth Bowie of Connecticut’s Fairfield County. “For our family, it’s more than a tree. It’s hope.
“The Christmas continues. It used to be a nest for birds, but now it’s going to be a nest for me, for my family.”
Lumber from Rockefeller Center Christmas trees has been used to help build Habitat homes in Pascagoula, Mississippi; New York City; Stamford, Connecticut; and Newburgh, New York.
The Carpenter’s Gift was inspired by the generous annual donation of the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree to Habitat.
“What first drew me was simply a beautiful story, wonderfully rendered and illustrated. And Rockefeller Center and that tree,” says Chip Gibson, president and publisher of Random House Children’s Books. “I walk through Rockefeller Center almost every morning of my life. That means I have that tree sort of to myself, which is a great rarity.
“We can enrich what is already a wonderful thing: the whole Habitat story, experience, exposure and connectiveness.
“The achievement of The Carpenter’s Gift — and everything that comes with it — is dimension upon dimension upon dimension. It’s one of the most wonderful projects I’ve been involved with, and I’ve been in this business for 30 years.”
Habitat for Humanity and the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree
See how the most famous Christmas trees in the world go from lighting up the night to being a very special part of Habitat homes.
Paper With A Purpose
Parts of the 2010 Rockefeller Center Christmas tree that couldn't be turned into lumber for Habitat for Humanity have been used to make commemorative bookplates for the new children's book The Carpenter’s Gift.
Special thanks to Tishman Speyer for the annual donation of the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree and for sharing facts and figures from the tree’s history. For more information, to find out how to purchase The Carpenter’s Gift or to order a special commemorative bookplate, visit habitat.org/thecarpentersgift.