NEW YORK (AP) — With a flick of the switch, a 76-foot Norway Spruce officially became the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree after it was illuminated for the first time this holiday season in a ceremony that's been held since 1933.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg turned on the lights just before 9 p.m. Wednesday, setting off a dazzling 45,000 multi-colored LED lights and a 9 ½ foot wide Swarovski star that topped the 12 ton tree.
Adam Connery, 41, and his wife Kristy Connery, 37, from Tyngsborough, Mass., watched the ceremony on their first vacation to New York City.
"It's gorgeous, it's enormous," said Kristy Connery of the massive tree towering above the hundreds of thousands of people who gathered to watch the ceremony. "Christmas is my favorite time of the year."
The holiday event in midtown Manhattan also was watched by millions on television. The tree will be on display until Jan. 7, after which it'll be milled into lumber for Habitat for Humanity.
Artists such as Mary J. Blige, the Goo Goo Dolls, Jewel, Mariah Carey and Leona Lewis performed.
Lamar Lakins, 37, a housekeeper from Queens, brought his wife, mother, 10 year old daughter Shanel, and newborn son to watch the performances and see the tree lighting.
He and Shanel danced together in the plaza during a performance of "Jingle Bells."
"I just love this," he said of the gathering. "It's just people out enjoying themselves. I'm definitely a fan of the holiday season."
The approximately 75 year old tree made the 70 mile trip to New York City on a tractor-trailer from its home in Shelton, Conn., last month.
Danbury, Conn., resident Mary Hynes, 60, declared the show to be "outstanding."
"The excitement of the crowd, the brilliance of the lights. It was great," she said.
"Today Show" personalities Matt Lauer, Al Roker, Savannah Guthrie and Natalie Morales co-hosted "Christmas in Rockefeller Center," which aired on NBC.
They dedicated the broadcast to James Lovell, 58, a married father of four and a sound and lighting expert who worked on the tree. Lovell was one of four people killed when a Metro-North commuter train derailed in the Bronx on Sunday. He was on his way to work on the tree when the accident occurred.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - Christmastime manger scenes in public spaces have often been the subject of legal fights in the U.S.
But the American Civil Liberties Union says the creche scene installed by the Florida Nativity Scene Committee at the Capitol in Tallahassee is legal - because it is privately funded, not government sponsored.
Still, the ACLU says that by allowing the exhibit, which depicts the birth of Jesus, the state will now have to allow anyone to use the premises of the Capitol to express messages.
Later this week, the Freedom From Religion Foundation will put up a banner at the Capitol stating opposition to religion in government.
It may be September, but state officials have already started their Christmas shopping in Jefferson City -- for a holiday tree, that is. Missouri officials are looking for the next Christmas tree to decorate the lawn of the Governor's Mansion in state capitol. The deadline to submit entries to the state Department of Conservation is September 30. Trees must be at least 40 feet tall, fully branched and donated. The owner of the winning tree gets a personalized thank you from Governor Jay Nixon and an invitation to the tree lighting. Submissions must include photos taken from several angles and distances, contact information and the location of tree through an online mapping service. Entries can be sent to the Department of Conservation in Jefferson City.