(All information gathered from NYC Parks).
NYC is an iconic holiday destination, and it has been for more than a century. NYC Parks Department has been responsible for much of the city’s holiday spirit since as early at 1911.
According to Madison Square Park Conservancy, the country’s first public Christmas tree lighting ceremony was held in Madison Square Park back in 1912. The historical location is now marked by the Star of Hope Monument in the park. At the time of the lighting, electricity was still a rarity to have in common households, yet thousands of lights illuminated the tree as over 25,000 visitors came to view the spectacle.
One year later, City Hall’s annual Christmas Tree lighting was introduced.
By 1924, the Washington Square Association had started their own annual tree lighting event under the famous arch met with holiday caroling.
For Brooklyn, Prospect Park erected their first Christmas tree in 1920. However, in 1926 a new tree funded by civic organizations had surpassed the original in height and decoration. The new tree totaled 50-feet high and was decorated in 1,200 colored electric lights. According to the Parks Annual Reports, the tree “made a splendid appearance and could be seen from many streets and avenues approaching the park.”
It wasn’t until 1934 that the first large-scale celebrations began across the city. A ceremony led by former Mayor Fiorello H. LaGuardia dedicated 14 fifty-foot Norway Spruce trees across NYC parks. The event was broadcasted on the WNYC radio station and “via a public address system to sites across the city.” The ceremony featured the Park Department Band and a performance from the Concert Division of the Department of Public Welfare’s 75 person choir.
In one year, the celebration grew to 25 sites across NYC, including Pelham Parkway, Fort Tyron, McCarren Park and more.
During the 30s, the Parks Greenhouse in Prospect Park went on to host Christmas exhibits that showcased seasonal plants from Poinsettias to Christmas Cherries.
By 1950, 200 Christmas celebrations were hosted across NYC neighborhood playgrounds involving tree trimming, Christmas games, choral singers and visits from Santa.
More than twenty years later (1970s), the world’s largest menorah stood tall for the first time ever in Grand Army Plaza and the Delacorte Clock in Central Park added holiday music that still plays today.
NYC continues to carry on most of the park’s annual traditions along with other iconic seasonal celebrations such as the Rockefeller Tree lighting, the NYBG train show, wreath interpretations by the Parks Department Headquarters in Central Park, and “MulchFest,” where NYers can give back to the environment by disposing their Christmas trees to be turned into mulch chips.