Many of us will spend the coming days at a local Christmas tree lot, or hauling an artificial tree out of an obscure space in the basement or storage room. The really ambitious will load kids into the car or van and drive to the country to chop down their tree.

It's a holiday tradition many look forward to.

Perhaps the most famous Christmas tree in America is the one at New York's Rockefeller Center.

This year's beauty hails from Florida, New York, a tiny village due north of the city. The 77-foot, 12-ton Norway Spruce was happily donated by Carol Schultz, who said she told the tree for years it would one day be displayed at Rockefeller Center, according to one news report.

It will be covered with more than 50,000 multi-colored LED lights and topped with a 900-pound Swarovski crystal-studded star – 3 million crystals to be exact.

It will be viewed by nearly 1 million people who travel to see it and millions more when it is lighted during a nationally televised program a week from today.

However, I believe the story of Rockefeller Center's first Christmas tree warrants re-telling.

America was in the midst of The Great Depression in 1931. People stood in line for hours, hoping for a loaf of bread. Proud, hardworking men wore old, tattered clothing and held hand-painted signs begging for work.

In New York City, stories are told about kids skating down the empty halls of once-bustling buildings.

John D. Rockefeller Jr. left a remarkable imprint on American history and culture when, in the midst of The Depression, he built Rockefeller Center in the heart of Midtown on land that had been intended for Columbia University and then The Metropolitan Opera. The president of U.S. Steel said the project kept the steel industry alive. It employed more than 40,000 demolition and construction workers, manufacturers and craftspeople who made everything from doors to door knobs.

A photo from December 1931 shows the deep, muddy hole that had been dug for the foundation. Grateful workers chipped in to buy and erect a 20-foot Christmas tree and decorated it with strings of cranberries, paper garlands and a few tin cans in stark contrast to the gray bleakness surrounding them.

On Christmas Eve, they lined up near the tree for their paychecks. As a result, the first tree was dubbed The Miracle Tree because to have a job in those days was indeed a miracle.

It’s difficult to imagine what life must have been like in those days. Like most of you, I have been blessed with a lifetime of happy Christmases in a warm, comfortable home, decked out for Christmas inside and out. There was plenty of home-cooked food, cookies and gifts.

In the midst of Christmas fa-la-la, my parents always managed to keep us focused on what the first Christmas was about. My dad put a manger in the front yard and another on the living room mantel. One year, he bought each of his three girls mangers for our own homes. I'm looking at mine right now as I write. Our tree was topped with a star or angel and we listened to or sang “Silent Night” as often as “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.”

I have friends who lament the commercialization of Christmas. I admit some of my own head shaking that oranges and candy kisses in Christmas stockings were replaced by gift cards and iPhones. I applaud those – and there may be many more than we realize because they act quietly and do no TV advertising – who string popcorn or make ornaments from pine cones, visit live Nativity programs, take kids to serve meals or have them use allowances to buy hats and mittens for kids who have none.

Even that big, showy Rockefeller tree ultimately serves a higher purpose. Once the lights have been turned off, it is milled and the lumber is donated to Habitat for Humanity.

Wishing you a holiday season filled with life's blessings.

Contact this freelance writer at avonlakemurphy@gmail.com.

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