NEW YORK – Rockin' around the Christmas tree looks different for visitors at Rockefeller Center this year, starting with Wednesday's tree lighting ceremony.
What's normally a chaotic, crowded tourist hotspot during the holiday season was instead a mask-mandated, time-limited, socially distanced locale due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The tree, a 75-foot (23-meter) Norway spruce, had its holiday lights turned on in an event that was broadcast on television but closed to the public. The telecast used pre-recorded performances from entertainers like Kelly Clarkson and Dolly Parton, and camera shots of the streets around the tree showed them to be largely empty.
In the days following the lighting until the early part of January, those wishing to take a look at the tree will have to follow a host of rules.
The plaza where the tree is physically located will be closed to the public; instead, there will be specific tree-viewing zones on the midtown Manhattan blocks on either side.
Visitors will join a virtual line, and can get text messages to let them know when it's their turn. At that point, they will be directed to specific pods, each of which can hold four people, to look at the tree. There will be a five-minute limit to tree-viewing.
Of course, everyone will have to be wearing masks and maintain social distance. Entrance to the skating rink and retail will be separate.
The restricted approach is a necessary one, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said earlier this week. “It will be limited, the number of people that can get close. This is what we got to do to protect everyone."
Workers at Rockefeller Center first put up a tree in 1931. It became an annual tradition starting in 1933. This year's tree came from Oneonta, in central New York.