December 7, 2017
NoMad Came Before The Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree
On the 105th Anniversary of the first community Christmas Tree in the USA, we remind you of its origins in Madison Square Park on December 22, 1912.
The tree, a 70-foot fir from the Adirondacks, was drawn to the park by a team of four horses and decorated with 1,200 colored lights given by the Edison Company (lights had only recently been invented by Thomas Edison). Madison Square Park, then the center of New York life – a town square much like Rockefeller Center is today, became the focal point of the city during the holidays in the early 20th Century. The first tree-lighting ceremony on Christmas Eve was attended by 20,000 and was celebrated much as the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree lighting is today.
According to Alma Margret Higgins, who prepared a history of the first community Christmas tree, the tree in Madison Square Park was the idea of a foreign artist. Visiting America at Christmas time, this anonymous artist felt left out of the gayety and community of the season. Returning to live here ten years later, he developed the idea of the “Tree of Light” — a large Christmas tree in a public square with the singing of carols for the lonely, the homeless and the friendless. The tree became an overnight inspiration to other communities and community trees appeared across America, including the national tree in Washington. The tradition even spread to the Far East and Europe. According to contemporary newspaper reports, it was hoped from the beginning, that the tree would personify the Christmas spirit and become a national custom. It certainly did.
The huge tree appeared in Madison Square Park regularly after 1912 and heights varied up to 75 feet — not much shy of the 80-foot tree at Rockefeller Center this year. As it is today, the lighting was accompanied by much fanfare, including chimes, church bells ringing, trumpet blasts, hours of choral music and even the distribution of sandwiches, cakes and coffee to the homeless.