Torrential rain did little to dampen the spirits of people attending the 84th annual Rockefeller Center Christmas tree lighting ceremony Wednesday night. But elaborate security measures frustrated many who wanted to share holiday spirit and commuters complained about the disruption from the thousands of spectators who crowded into midtown.
Police had erected a series of steel barricades along Sixth Avenue to control pedestrian traffic. The barricades snaked around the corner on West 46th and 52nd streets, forming narrow corridors that went on for nearly 100 feet on both sides. Police also set up checkpoints in the middle of the street to direct the flow of people.
Joan Howard, 70, an office administrator who lives in Chelsea, was trying to get home after work. Howard was one of hundreds of people who were herded into the corridors on West 46th Street. She said she couldn’t care less about the tree and was angry at the disruption on such a wet night.
“I don’t have to be inconvenienced getting out of work on a nasty day like this and no one telling me what to do,” she said. “You get stuck in the street here corralled like an animal.”
On West 52nd Street, more commuters waited impatiently in the rain. “I think it’s a mess what the city does, the way they close these streets forcing people to walk out of their way,” said Vincent Paterno, 35, a retailer from Manhattan, before rushing off to cross the street.
Security was even tighter for those trying to gain entry into the plaza. At West 50th Street, police turned away many prospective tree watchers because they were carrying an umbrella or bag. A New York City Department of Sanitation truck parked at the entrance, forming a natural barrier between passersby and police. Officers from the K-9, anti-terrorism and riot control units manned the barriers and left many in the crowd shaking their heads.
“It means we’re going to be standing in the pouring rain,” said Joanne Reyes, 38, an office manager from New Jersey. “Is it even worth it?”
Another disgruntled bystander was Camilla Diaz, 17, who lives on Long Island. A Chilean student studying at Embassy English, a foreign language school in Chelsea, Diaz was attending the ceremony for the first time. “I feel angry,” she said. “I’m not sure when I’ll ever be able to see it again.”
David Hong, a 23-year-old student from Gachon University in South Korea, said he hadn’t known about the security rules. “I didn’t know that I couldn’t bring my bag or umbrella in,” he said. “I think I’m going to leave. I feel like I don’t know what to do but I don’t feel good.”
Before they learned about the restrictions, many in the crowd said they were eager to see the tree. Carlos Luna, 12, from Westbury, Long Island, was jumping up and down, brimming with energy. “It’s amazing,” he said. “I’ve never seen the tree lit before in person.” he said. He’d missed seasonal lights being turned on at his school, Holy Child Academy, to catch a glimpse of the tree at the plaza.
“It’s on my bucket list,” said his mother, Betty, a 52-year-old pediatrician. “If people come from all over the world to see the tree, we have to enjoy it.”
At 8 p.m., police relaxed restrictions, finally allowing people to bring in bags and umbrellas. That was too late for Luna and her son, who were forced to abandon their belongings at a local hotel before being allowed into the plaza.
Despite the security measures, Rockefeller Center was packed on all sides. The tree, a 14-ton 94-foot-high Norway Spruce from Oneonta, N.Y., is the second tallest tree in Rockefeller Center history. It is estimated to be around 90 years old and was decorated with over 50,000 LED lights for the ceremony. The tree’s star was decorated with Swarovski crystals weighing in at over 500 pounds.
“I feel excited, like I’m part of New York now,” said Kayla McMillen, an 18-year-old student from St John’s University who managed to get into the ceremony. “The holidays are about people coming together, especially in New Yorkers. I feel that people need a reason to be with each other and Christmas is it.”
“This was at the top of my list of things to do in New York,” said Rebecca Clodfelter, 18, another student from St. John’s University, “probably because it’s been a difficult year for everyone and it’s a nice way to end the year on a good note.”