Rockefeller Center sees massive crowds for tree lighting

Rockefeller Center hosted its annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony with special performances from Justin Bieber, Tony Bennett, and others.

Frank Franklin II/AP
Rockefeller Center Christmas tree shown after it was lit, Wednesday, in New York.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg helped light the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree on Wednesday night, putting a spotlight on a small-town spruce from Pennsylvania and ringing in the holiday season.

Anna Veteri, visiting the city from suburban Yorktown, said it was "great" to see the colorful lights go on.

"It makes you feel like Christmas," she said.

The 74-foot-tall Norway spruce was illuminated by 30,000 lights during a ceremony that featured performances by Neil Diamond, Cee Lo Green and Carol King. Justin Bieber and Tony Bennett provided pre-taped performances.

It was the first time at the tree lighting for 13 year-old best friends Emily Solomon and Carmela Civello, of Brooklyn.

"It was beautiful," they said in unison.

Though they partially attended the lighting ceremony to see Bieber and were a bit miffed his performance was prerecorded and shown on monitors, they said they were happy to be there.

"I'm ready to get my Christmas gifts!" Emily said.

Tens of thousands of people were penned in on the streets surrounding Rockefeller Center, in midtown Manhattan. Most caught glimpses of performances on screens set up on street corners.

Paloma Diaz, 11, called herself a Bieber "believer" and attended to see him perform.

"I love him, but I also want to see the tree lighting," said the Queens resident, who was with her mother. "I've heard other people say it's really pretty when it lights up."

The tree-lighting ceremony happened on a day President Barack Obama was in town to raise money for his re-election bid. The combination of blocked-off streets and holiday visitors led to traffic jams across Manhattan.

The tree was cut down in Mifflinville, Pa. It's decorated with 5 miles of lights. The lights will be on until Jan. 7. After that, the Christmas tree will be turned into lumber for the housing charity Habitat for Humanity.

Workers building Rockefeller Center set up the first Christmas tree there in 1931. The first official tree-lighting ceremony was in 1933.

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