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All that Glitters: Standards and the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree Lighting

Tonight marks the 78th annual lighting of the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree in New York City, a tradition that spells the start of the holiday season for New Yorkers and tourists alike.

At 8:55 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, 30,000 lights strung along more than five miles of wire will bring extra sparkle to Fifth Avenue. While a Swarovski crystal star may get the top spot, standards do their part to add to the razzle dazzle of the word's most famous Christmas tree.

This year's 12-ton, 75-year-old spruce comes from Mahopac, New York. When selecting the holiday tree, Rockefeller Center seeks evergreens that are ready to be chopped because they are either too large or distressed. This year's tree, donated by Bronx firefighter Peter Acton and his family, was deemed ready for active Christmas duty due to its 74-foot height and proximity to the family's house.

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Rockefeller Center officially began its tree lighting ceremony in 1933, when the first Christmas tree was erected in front of the RCA Building and covered with 700 lights.

The Rockefeller Center Christmas tree lights will be lit from 5:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. until January 7. On Christmas Day, the tree will remain lit all day (24 hours) and from 5:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. on New Year's Eve.

When the tree is lit, an estimated 750,000 people pass through Rockefeller Center every day. Outside of the holiday season, foot traffic averages 350,000 people per day.

To assure proper tree treatment, the Tree Care Industry Association (TCIA), a member and accredited standards developer of the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), develops the A300 series of standards guiding tree care operations and maintenance, from planting to pruning to risk assessment.

A new addition to the A300 family, BSR A300 (Part 9)-201x, for Tree Care Operations - Tree, Shrub, and Other Woody Plant Management - Standard Practices (Tree Risk Assessment a. Tree Structure Assessment), is currently under review as an American National Standard (ANS). A300-Part 9 covers performance for risk assessments of trees, shrubs, and other woody plants. It is intended as a guide in the drafting of tree risk assessment specifications for consumers as well as federal, state, municipal, and private authorities.

This year, the Rockefeller tree will boast 30,000 multi-colored Light Emitting Diode (LED) bulbs. One of the advantages of LED lighting is its high energy efficiency: LED holiday lights use up to 90 percent less energy than traditional lights.

To shed some light on the complexity of LED sources and systems, ANSI member and accredited standards developer the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America (IESNA) has published IESNA TM-16-05, Technical Memorandum on Light Emitting Diode (LED) Sources and Systems. The document provides a history of LED development, a description of LED technologies, and an overview of LED product design and thermal management issues.

Though the lights themselves will be multicolored, solar panels atop a nearby building will ensure that they are as "green" as can be. Energy collected by the solar panels will be used to ease the tree's demand on the city's electrical infrastructure.

Come hail, sleet, or snow, a standard from ANSI member and audited designator ASTM International can help to ensure that solar collector covers remain viable during winter weather. ASTM E822-92(2009), Standard Practice for Determining Resistance of Solar Collector Covers to Hail by Impact With Propelled Ice Balls, determines the ability of cover plates for flat-plate solar collectors to withstand impact forces of falling hail using propelled ice balls to simulate falling hailstones.

When the holiday season comes to an end, the Rockefeller spruce will continue to spread its cheer. Branches from the tree will be turned into mulch and donated to local organizations, and the tree's lumber will be used to build a home in New York State. Builders and construction workers may want to look to ANSI/AF&PA NDS-2005, National Design Specification for Wood Construction, which provides guidelines and requirements for structural and fire design of wood products. Used in model building codes in the U.S. and worldwide, the standard was developed by American Forest and Paper Association, an ANSI member and accredited standards developer.

As the holiday season kicks into glittery gear, standards are at work assuring Christmas cheer.


Jana Zabinski

Senior Director, Communications & Public Relations


[email protected]

Beth Goodbaum

Journalist/Communications Specialist


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