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How to Haul the Most Famous Christmas Tree in America

With another Thanksgiving in the books, millions of people are starting their Christmas tree search. Picking just the right one can carry a bit of pressure.

Rockefeller Center Tree
Erik Pauze overseeing the arrival of the hand-picked Rockefeller Center Tree in 2015.

Perhaps no one has more pressure picking a tree than Erik Pauze. You’ve probably never heard of Erik. He’s the guy responsible selecting the world’s most visible Christmas tree: the one that rises high above New York City’s Rockefeller Center, viewed by millions every holiday season.

As head gardener, Pauze searches the tri-state area throughout the year looking for a worthy Norway Spruce that, um, makes the cut. Ideally it’s at least 70-feet tall and 45-feet wide. Once Erik finds his tree, it’s guarded like the crown jewels. Pauze and his team will visit the tree regularly, maintaining it until it is time to cut it down for transport.

2016 Rockefeller Center Tree

This year’s tree comes from Oneonta, N.Y., reports NBC New York. To-date, the tallest tree stood 100-feet tall and came from Killingworth, Conn., in December 1999.

But what isn’t widely known is how it gets there and what it takes to pull off the feat. Let’s just say it takes a bit more doing than strapping it to the top of your mini-SUV with some rope or bungee cords.

Transporting the Tree

The tree removal process is no quick thing. It takes about one week to wrap up the tree and secure all branches. Then, the tree is anchored by a giant crane and cut from its stomp by a chainsaw. It takes the crane, plus five to seven men on the ground with ropes in hand, to direct the massive tree and prevent it from swinging wildly once cut free.

The tree is then lifted onto its side and laid on a 115-foot flatbed trailer for transport. Once it’s tied up and strapped down the tree makes its journey to Rockefeller Center.

Arriving in Rockefeller Center

Crowds gather around as the giant 115-foot flatbed pulls into Rockefeller Center. If you’ve ever driven a large, long truck, you know doing this in New York City is an accomplishment all on its own.

Erecting the tree is a spectacle in itself. After a steel dowel in place in the center of the trunk, it’s traditionally hammered in by the tree’s donors.

A large crane then lifts the tree from its side and into the air, mounting it in its final resting place for the season.

The Rockefeller Center Tree of 2016
Arrival of the 2016 Rockefeller Center Tree

When in place, the tree is held sturdy by multiple guide-wires and the steel spike in the center of the trunk. Lastly, the tree is wrapped in 45,000 LED lights (try finding the bad bulb in that strand) and topped with a 500-lb Swarovski crystal star.

This year marks the 84th annual Rockefeller Tree Lighting. The event is free and open to the public. Learn more about the event and the tree itself, here.

So, what happens to all that lumber when the holiday season ends?

We were happy to find out that the trees have been annually recycled since 1971. Back then it was ground down and used as mulch for the nature trails in Manhattan. These days the tree is donated to Habitat for Humanity where its lumber is used to build homes for those in need. This tradition started back in 2007, when the organization was rebuilding homes destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.

If you happen to have a prime 75-foot Norway Spruce sitting in your yard, submit your tree to be chosen as the 2017 Rockefeller center piece.