The Fate of the Rockefeller Christmas Tree Is Actually Really Lovely

After Christmas, the Rockefeller Christmas tree is taken down — and it moves onto a much more noble cause.

Sophie Hirsh - Author

Dec. 1 2022, Updated 11:04 a.m. ET

The Fate of the Rockefeller Christmas Tree Is Actually Really Lovely
Source: Getty Images

Christmas is still a few weeks away, but the Rockefeller Christmas tree is more than ready for the holiday. Now that the Norway Spruce has been lit for all to see, you might find yourself wondering: What happens to the Rockefeller Christmas tree after Christmas?

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

Rockefeller Christmas Tree
Source: Getty Images
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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. As of publication, Rockefeller Center has not yet decided when the 2022 Christmas tree will come down, but will share that news sometime in the next few weeks. But once it does come down, what happens next?

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. 

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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.

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.

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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 2022 holiday season, the Rockefeller Christmas tree is a Norway Spruce that was grown in Queensbury, N.Y., meaning the lumber won’t have too far to travel.

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. For instance, as of 2019, Habitat for Humanity of Coastal Fairfield County in Bridgeport, Conn. still has not used all of the beams from the 2013 tree.

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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.

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

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.

This article, originally published on Dec. 3, 2020, has been updated to reflect the 2022 Christmas season.

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