Although Santa Claus already arrived a week ago on Thanksgiving Day, the city waited until yesterday for that other essential New York Christmas experience - the lighting of the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree, an almost 90-year old New York tradition. (The first Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree was erected in 1931. The first Tree-lighting came two years later.) The Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree has long been a major tourist attraction, but to native New Yorkers it is just one of those great and glorious things about how Christmas is celebrated in this city.
This year's tree is a 12-ton, 79-foot Norway spruce from Elkton, Maryland, adorned with more than 50,000 multicolored lights and topped with a 900-pound star with 70 spikes covered in 3 million crystals. That makes it obviously quite an elaborate advance on the much more modest medieval model associated with Martin Luther and the somewhat similarly simple trees we used to set up and light in our Bronx apartment when I was growing up. But then isn't Rockefeller Center supposed to be over-the-top, a bit baroque (actually Art Deco)? Of course, Christmas itself is, within the scheme of the year, the over-the-top ultimate end of the year, which is why we can never seem to get too much of it, why we ultimately can never really totally overdo it.
When I became a pastor in 2010, one of my few early innovations was to set up a Christmas Tree outside the church, which we blessed and lit annually on December 8 (our parish's patronal feast). On such occasions the Church prays: Lord God, let your blessing come upon us as we illumine this tree. May the light and cheer it gives be a sing of the joy that fills our hearts. May all who delight in this tree come to the knowledge and joy of salvation.
May that be our prayer for all again this Christmas season!
Meanwhile, when last year's tree was being installed in Rockefeller Center, workers discovered an owl within the tree's wrapped branches. Having somehow survived the three-day trip without food or water, the owl (newly named Rocky) was taken to a wildlife center to be nursed back to health and then was released on the grounds of the wildlife center in Saugerties. Rocky's story is the subject of a new children's book published by The Paulist Press, Little Owl in the Big City, by Marcia Mogelonsky and Illustrated by Jill Alexander. According to Mogelonsky, "When I first heard about the little owl hidden in the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree, I was convinced that this was no accident. Little Owl intended to get to the Big City to see the lights, hear the noise, and experience the excitement. I wanted to share Little Owl's adventures with the children who are also thrilled by the wonder of the season."
Hopefully we never outgrow being "thrilled by the wonder of the season."
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