Joy to the World: The Inspiring Journey of the 2019 Rockefeller Tree

Carol Schultz shares how her Norway spruce was chosen from thousands to be the most famous Christmas tree in the world.

by - Posted on Oct 15, 2020

Photo credit: Diane Bondareff/AP for Tishman Speyer

I looked out my living room window at the proud little Norway spruce, still safe in its pail, standing out there in our front yard, where it would ultimately make its new home. “You’re gonna be a beauty,” I said. It was January 1960, and I was looking forward to planting our tabletop Christmas tree in the ground come spring. “That’s the one,” I’d said at the gardening store, pointing to a nicely shaped live evergreen, its roots wrapped in burlap. “You’re destined for greatness.” We’d decorated the tree and surrounded it with presents for our two young sons, Mitchell and Thomas. Now I felt almost as if I had three babies to watch grow up.

That spring the tree took root—and grew along with our family. Two more sons came along, Floyd and Kenneth. They loved the tree, climbing its sturdy branches and chasing the squirrels who had settled in it. “Four boys and a tree” pretty much described our family entertainment. As the years passed we craned our necks to see the regal point up top—10, 20, 30 feet in the air.

Each December we used a ladder to hang big multicolored outdoor lights from the branches as best we could. Then we would go inside to warm up and watch the New York City Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony on TV. I always marked the event on my calendar and tried to coordinate decorating our own front yard prizewinner on the very same day. I loved seeing all the people press in around the tree that was chosen from thousands to be the most famous Christmas tree in the world.

Carol Schultz hugs her Norway spruce prior to its trip to NYC
       Carol Schultz hugs her Norway spruce
       prior to its journey to NYC

From our TV room we clapped and cheered along with the live audience when the tree lights were switched on. It was a joy that never dimmed.

One year, while watching the credits roll, I thought of my own tree. If only that could be our tree up there on the plaza stage, a throng of people from around the world celebrating its glory, golden angels lining the entryway to the breathtaking vision. In 2000, I found out how to nominate a tree for consideration. I wrote to the committee and enclosed a photo that hardly did our tree justice. Maybe someday, I thought when I put the letter in the mail.

I almost forgot my Christmas wish until a neighbor came over last summer.

“A guy from Rockefeller Center stopped by. You weren’t home, so he left his card for you. Says he likes your tree.”

The next day I got a knock on my door from the guy. It was Erik Pauze, the master gardener. “Can we talk about your Norway spruce?”he asked.

We strolled under the shade of the tree.

“My crew and I would like to come visit once a week and fertilize the tree, keep an eye on it,” he said. And so they did, until my Christmas wish was a sealed deal. My tree, my little Norway spruce, now 77 feet tall by expert measurement, was chosen to be the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree of 2019!

In October the workers placed a sprinkler on top of the tree to soften the branches so they could bend. Then they wrapped the branches one by one with rope to make the tree easier to bundle.

In November the crew came back to cut the tree down. It was a big to-do in our little town—our neighbors and all the elementary school kids gathered around to watch. Once the crew sawed through the spruce’s mighty trunk, a crane lifted it onto a flatbed truck for its journey to New York City. My family and I all stood on its huge stump for a photo.

Instead of watching the tree lighting ceremony on TV last year, there I was in Rockefeller Plaza as a bona fide VIP.

“You made it!” I cried to my tree.

It was cold and rainy, but when the switch was flipped, all of New York City seemed to light up with me. The crowd roared, and I felt connected by Christmas to millions of people all over the world.

Our tree left Rockefeller Plaza on January 7, but her work was not done. The wood from it was milled, treated and turned into lumber used to build homes for Habitat for Humanity. Joy spread from my home to so many others.

And now it’s time for me to run out to the gardening store and pick this year’s tree. I know she will be a beauty.

Read more: The Man Who Picks Out the Rockefeller Center Tree

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