NEW YORK – A bright symbol of the holiday burst to life in Rockefeller Center (search) Tuesday night as Mayor Michael Bloomberg (search) and three Olympians turned on the 30,000 lights decorating the center's famed Christmas tree.
Three Olympic gold winners — ice skater Sarah Hughes and gymnasts Paul Hamm (search) and Carly Patterson — joined the mayor to light the tree at the annual ceremony in midtown Manhattan.
"It's amazing," said Jessica Mendelsohn, 20, who viewed the lighting ceremony from the crowd. "It's gorgeous."
This year's tree, a 9-ton, 71-foot-tall Norway spruce found on the property of a Suffern, N.Y. family, boasted a star at its top for the first time in its 72-year history. The star is covered in 25,000 crystals and is 91/2 feet in diameter.
Jessica Simpson, Nick Lachey, Hillary Duff and Chris Isaak were on hand for the festivities, which were broadcast live on NBC from Rockefeller Plaza.
With temperatures in the 40s, thousands of people stood bundled inside police barricades for the ceremony.
"Christmas in New York is all about Rockefeller Center, the Christmas show, the skating and the lighting of the tree," said Bridget Cagney, of Queens. "It wouldn't be Christmas in New York without that."
The 40-foot-wide tree was lifted into place Nov. 11 and adorned with colored lights on five miles of wire. The tree is to remain illuminated until Jan. 6.
The first Rockefeller Center tree was put up in 1931 by workers helping to build the complex, and the first formal tree-lighting ceremony took place in 1933.