In Defense of Rockefeller Center’s Ugly, Perfect Tree

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Oh, Christmas Tree …

For those who haven’t heard, Rockefeller Center put up its traditional yuletide tree this week, and, well, it looked busted. Slightly bare, branches askew, missing the zhuzh normally found in your typical Rockefeller tree. It was a spruce in need of sprucing. Unsurprisingly, as soon as it was unveiled, social media couldn’t help but comment on its sad state. People made Charlie Brown jokes, evoked National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. One user, rightly, pointed out that it looked like it gave itself a haircut. It was, the collective decided, a 75-foot, 11-ton stack of wood and needles worthy of this year of interminable hell.

You know what? They were right. But also, unlike that tree, they can get bent. That tree—which hails, if you want to know, from Oneonta, New York—is nearly 80 years old, definitely older than anyone on TikTok. It traveled 170 miles to Manhattan on the back of a truck, in a pandemic, to get there. How dare they? All that tree wants to do is sparkle and mind its business like the rest of us. Speaking of, you know what the rest of us also did in 2020? Give ourselves haircuts! You may think the tree is messy, but so is everyone right now. Get over it.

Obviously, a lot of the criticism being lobbed at the Rockefeller tree is being delivered with sympathy, with an unrelenting energy of girl, same. There’s a lot of snark, no doubt, but on the internet in this year of all years, it’s nice to have something to mock that’s completely inconsequential. If that tree didn’t go up at all, the worst-case scenario would be people taking selfies in front of a slightly less iconic-looking scene. Not hundreds of thousands getting a potentially fatal virus. Or a president refusing to concede an election. As far as online discourse in 2020 goes, trash-talking an ugly tree is pretty low-stakes. Taking potshots at it feels safe. And, again, it’s a nearly century-old spruce; it can probably take it.

But there’s something else about the tree that feels familiar. Sure, a lot of folks look, or at least feel, as disheveled as that tree. Yet, it also serves as a reminder that things can be improved. As the week wore on, the tree continued to come together. A blog purporting to be written by the evergreen itself promised, “In total New York fashion, I’ll be having some work done … I’m currently under construction.” It got its 900-pound Swarovski star placed on top. And workers found a magical-looking tiny owl hiding in it! (OK, but seriously, that owl should probably be returned to Oneonta.) The official Rockefeller Center Twitter account also decided to return some of the snark, posting this on the timeline: “Wow, you all must look great right after a two-day drive, huh? Just wait until I get my lights on.”

That tree may embody the state of the world right now, but it also lost its life to bring people joy. One day, it’ll be lit up, and it’ll probably look pretty nice. One day, folks might start getting the Covid-19 vaccine Dolly Parton helped fund, and maybe we’ll start looking nice again too. And one day, just before the Rockefeller Center tree comes down, 2020 will be over.


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