Holidays in Chicago: Lighting the Tree

In December 1956, Chicago’s Christmas tree was in fact one large tree that had been created from many smaller trees. The tree was 70 feet tall, decorated with about 4,400 lights and more than 2,000 ornaments, and was located in the Grant Park tree platform at Congress Parkway and Michigan Avenue. The Tree Lighting Ceremony was eventually  moved to Civic Center Plaza, known today as Daley Plaza, in December 1966.

That was where I remembered the beauty of the tree.I was shocked that the tree was so tall because there was more than one tree bundled together. Each year I kept looking up trying to figure out how this all worked and the time it must have taken. I remember going to see the tree with many waiting regardless of the weather. I remember that first gasp we all made together as the lights came on. Over a 100 year tradition that we celebrated and eventually the tree lighting came in tandem with the magical Christmaskindlemart.

Chicago’s first municipal Christmas tree was lit in 1913 on Christmas Eve by Mayor Carter H. Harrison in Grant Park. The tree was a 35-foot Douglas Spruce placed on 40-foot poles and studded with smaller trees to give the appearance of a much larger tree. It was decorated with 600 multi-colored lights and topped with the Star of Bethlehem according to the City of Chicago.org.

The first Christmas tree was a gift of an associate of Captain Herman Scheunemann and was lit in his honor. He was the captain of the Rouse Simmons, known as the “Christmas Tree Ship.” The ship was lost in a storm in Lake Michigan on November 23, 1912.

In the 1990s, the cost of constructing the tree with individual trees was astronomical  So  the city asked for donations of single, massive trees.  In 2008 one family actually donated a 70 foot tree.

Enjoy this holiday tradition, a glittering tree set among Chicago’s sparkling skyline and the iconic art of Millennium Park. The City of Chicago is proud to present the 104th Anniversary of the Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony on Friday, November 17. Chicago’s 104th Christmas Tree was donated by Darlene Dorfler of Grayslake, Illinois. The 62-foot Norway Spruce was selected out of 71 submissions received by the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events.

The ceremony will be emceed by WGN TV’s Demetrius Ivory and Erin Ivory along with a special appearance by Santa and Mrs. Claus.

Admission to the Tree Lighting Ceremony and all other holiday activities in Millennium Park is free.

The Christmas Tree will remain up until Saturday, January 6, 2018.

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