Rockefeller Center Christmas tree’s journey into a Habitat home

The holiday season is a magical time of hope, joy and togetherness for many Habitat for Humanity families. Whether it’s being able to build a snowman in the front yard, gather the kids around the kitchen table to decorate cookies or inviting friends over for warm apple cider, having a safe and stable home gives families the freedom to create memories that will last a lifetime. For some Habitat families, the holidays are also a special reminder that their house is part Christmas tree.

A Christmas tradition

Each year since 2007, lumber milled from the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree has been used to help a family build their Habitat home. Tishman Speyer, the owner and operator of Rockefeller Center, generously donates that lumber to Habitat. Company staff members then build alongside a family, turning a Christmas tradition celebrated by millions into a place for smaller, but no less joyous, celebrations.

“Every year, Tishman Speyer generously donates one of the largest and most widely-recognized Christmas trees to Habitat,” says Jonathan Reckford, CEO of Habitat for Humanity International. “The Rockefeller Center Christmas tree is a reminder to reflect, be thankful and to remember to give back to others among the hustle and bustle of the holidays. That symbol will live on as part of Habitat homeowners’ lives in their new houses.” A children’s book inspired by Tishman Speyer and Habitat’s partnership, The Carpenter’s Gift, is also a powerful reminder to give back. The heartwarming story follows the journey of a young boy whose wish for a decent home comes true in an unexpected way.  

For Habitat for Humanity International employees, a symbol of the longstanding partnership with Tishman is visible year-round. Several walls featuring exposed lumber from the 2018 Rockefeller Center Christmas tree are scattered throughout Habitat’s national headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia. The lumber is branded with stamps from multiple years commemorating the annual tree lighting ceremony.

Lumber with "Rockefeller Center 2018 tree lighting" stamped onto it, surrounded by Christmas lights.

What happens to the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree after the holidays?  

Rockefeller Center usually selects a Norway Spruce as its holiday showstopper. Once the trees come down, the trunks are milled into two-by-four and two-by six beams that Tishman Speyer, the owner and operator of Rockefeller Center, donates to Habitat.

The wood of a Norway Spruce is more flexible and durable than lumber for load-bearing walls and therefore is ideal for blocking — the filling, spacing, joining or reinforcing of frames — as well as for flooring, furniture and cabinetry. Lumber from Rockefeller Center Christmas trees has been used to help build Habitat homes from New York to Mississippi.

Lakisha and her five children have lumber from the 2017 tree in their Habitat home in New York. Lakisha treasures making breakfast for her family on Christmas morning and finally having the space to spread out, relax and enjoy the day together. Several pieces of exposed lumber in her pantry and cabinets are branded with a commemorative stamp celebrating the anniversary of Rockefeller Center’s 85th tree lighting. “Every day, it’s a beautiful reminder of how far I’ve come,” Lakisha says. “And that you should never give up on your dreams, no matter what.”

What Habitat homes contain lumber from a Rockefeller Center Christmas tree?

 

  • 2007: A tree from Shelton, Connecticut, was displayed in Rockefeller Center, and its lumber was used in Habitat homes in Pascagoula, Mississippi.
  • 2008: A tree from Trenton, New Jersey, was displayed in Rockefeller Center, and its lumber was used in Habitat homes in New York City.
  • 2009: A tree from Easton, Connecticut, was displayed in Rockefeller Center, and its lumber was used in Habitat homes in Stamford, Connecticut.
  • 2010: A tree from Mahopac, New York, was displayed in Rockefeller Center, and its lumber was used in Habitat homes in Newburgh, New York.
  • 2011: A tree from Mifflinville, Pennsylvania, was displayed in Rockefeller Center, and its lumber was used in Habitat homes in Philadelphia.
  • 2012: A tree from Flanders, New Jersey, was displayed in Rockefeller Center, and its lumber was used in Habitat homes in New York City and Madison, New Jersey.

 

  • 2013: A tree from Shelton, Connecticut, was displayed in Rockefeller Center, and its lumber was used in Habitat homes in Bridgeport, Connecticut.
  • 2014: A tree from Hemlock Township, Pennsylvania, was displayed in Rockefeller Center, and its lumber was used in Habitat homes in Philadelphia.
  • 2015: A tree from Gardiner, New York, was displayed in Rockefeller Center, and its lumber was used in Habitat homes in Newburgh, New York.
  • 2016: A tree from Oneonta, New York, was displayed in Rockefeller Center, and its lumber was used in Habitat homes in Newburgh, New York.
  • 2017: A tree from State College, Pennsylvania, was displayed in Rockefeller Center, and its lumber was used in Habitat homes in Newburgh, New York.
  • 2018: A tree from Walkill, New York, was displayed in Rockefeller Center, and its lumber was used in Habitat homes in Newburgh, New York.
  • 2019 and 2020: Lumber from the 2019 tree from Florida, New York, and the 2020 tree from Oneonta, New York, will be used in Habitat homes in communities to be announced soon.
Mom and her two girls sitting on stoop of home with lumber used from Rockefeller tree.

Lumber milled from the 2017 Rockefeller Center Christmas tree was donated to Greater Newburgh Habitat for Humanity to help Lakisha build her home.

Rockefeller Center Christmas tree fun facts

  • 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 who donate their trees to replace them and replenish the landscape.
  • An estimated 500,000 people visit Rockefeller Center to see the Christmas tree each day during the holiday season.