After It's Taken Down, the Rockefeller Christmas Tree's Lumber Has a Virtuous Fate

Sophie Hirsh - Author

Dec. 21 2023, Updated 3:30 p.m. ET

Rockefeller Christmas tree at night, before being decorated, with the iconic fountain seen in front
Source: Getty Images

The Gist:

  • Every fall, Rockefeller Center in New York City puts up a massive real Christmas tree for people to enjoy.
  • After the holiday season, the tree is taken down.
  • The tree is turned into lumber, and used by a popular organization to build houses.
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After an enormous Norway spruce is brought to Rockefeller Plaza in Manhattan each fall, it's lit for all to see. But once the glow of the holiday season fades, you might find yourself wondering: What happens to the Rockefeller Christmas tree after Christmas?

Keep reading to find out the fate of the world-famous Rockefeller Christmas tree once the Christmas lights stop glistening.

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Rockefeller Christmas Tree lit up at night
Source: Getty Images

When does the Rockefeller Christmas tree come down?

Taylor Swift sang “We could leave the Christmas lights up 'til January” — and the Rockefeller Christmas tree felt that.

Every year, the lights — and the tree — are taken down sometime in early January. For the 2023-2024 season, the Christmas tree will be taken down on Saturday, Jan. 13, 2024 at 10:00pm.

But once it does come down, what happens next?

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What happens to the Rockefeller Christmas tree after Christmas?

Since 2007, after every holiday season, the famous tree is taken down and turned into lumber. The lumber is then donated to Habitat for Humanity, and the nonprofit uses the lumber to build homes for people in need. 

In a 2019 interview for the Rockefeller Center website, Habitat for Humanity director Rowena Sara explained the process of turning the tree into lumber for the organization’s use. On site at Rockefeller Plaza, the tree is chopped into a few large pieces. These pieces are then taken to a mill in New Jersey that roughly saws the wood into more manageable pieces.

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Then, the pieces are taken to a landscaping company, where landscapers dry them in a kiln, mill them, and plane them, which results in smooth, straight, and strong two-by-four and two-by-six beams. At that point, the beams are stamped and protected with some shrink wrap, and then they are shipped to a Habitat for Humanity affiliate.

Habitat for Humanity then uses the Rockefeller Christmas tree beams to build homes.

Typically, Habitat for Humanity returns the beams to an affiliate from the state where the tree originally came. For the 2023-2024 holiday season, the Rockefeller Christmas tree is a Norway spruce that was grown in Vestal, N.Y. — a several-hour drive from Manhattan — meaning the lumber won’t have too far to travel.

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As for deciding exactly what homes the lumber is used for, that is up to the local Habitat for Humanity affiliate. Sometimes, the volunteers decide to use all the beams in one home; other times, volunteers use just a few beams from the tree in every home they build.

If that warms your heart, you might be tickled to know that there is actually a children’s book about the tree and its journey to becoming lumber, titled The Carpenter’s Gift.

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The Rockefeller Christmas tree owl is safe after his viral fame in 2020.

All press is good press, right? In 2020, instead of the masses focusing on the actual tree itself (though many were quite focused on how dingy the tree appeared at first glance in 2020), most people were entranced by the story of the little owl who was found entangled in the Rockefeller Christmas tree in mid-November, by one of the employees responsible for transporting the tree.

Fortunately, the Ravensbeard Wildlife Center in Saugerties, N.Y. happily took in the adorable owl, who the team named — what else — Rockefeller. The team at the center helped rehabilitate the owl, known as Rocky, and soon released her back into the wild. As of December 2023, it seems as though Rocky is still doing well, since the Ravensbeard Wildlife Center is selling plenty of Rocky merch (and using all the proceeds to rehabilitate other animals in need).

This article, originally published on Dec. 3, 2020, has been updated to reflect the 2023 Christmas season.

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