The History of the Washington Square Christmas Tree — Tree from First Tree Lighting Ceremony in 1924 Was Planted in the Park In Spirit of “Wise Use”

“Researching Greenwich Village History”, an NYU site, recently uncovered the history of the first Washington Square Christmas tree. It turns out that the tree propped up in the front of the Arch at the first tree lighting ceremony in 1924 was later planted in the park. Words to the carols – to prompt the sing along – were projected onto the Arch!

The writer was not able to confirm that that tree is still at WSP or where it was planted which would be quite interesting to know. Apparently, “conservation” was a big consideration at that time, more so than 87 years later it appears. An article in the New York Times in 1925 expressed that, “Each year…a cry is raised that to have Christmas trees is to endanger our waning forest resources.” Perhaps they might consider planting the trees in the park now vs. the trees ending up in the chipper. The original tree, if it still existed in recent years, may have been chopped down in the Parks Department’s axing of so many trees via its redesign of Washington Square.

Here’s the info:

The original tree was officially presented on December 24, 1924, by Parks Commissioner Gallatin. The “appropriate ceremonies” included the lighting of the tree, which was to be equipped with “1,500 amber, green and red incandescent lights.” (New York Times, “City’s Celebration of Yuletide Begins” December 24, 1924) as well as caroling, and as the article went to press, the plan was to project the words of Christmas carols directly onto the Washington Square Arch, “…so that all present may read and sing.” The living tree, temporarily set up by the arch, was then to be planted permanently elsewhere in the park the following Monday.

It seems that today’s Washington Square Christmas Tree is a cut one, but in the spirit of “wise use,” we can still hope that the original living tree was able to be planted and enjoyed for many years after its journey to New York City! And of course, every time we walk through Washington Square Park and see an evergreen, we can imagine that it’s an 87 year veteran of park life.

Don’t forget caroling by the tree continues in front of the Arch Saturday, December 24th 5 p.m.!

The projection of the words to the carols on the Arch seems to have been abandoned but perhaps that could be brought back too. It would be another way to save trees as songbooks are now provided and handed out by the Washington Square Association instead.

The Rockefeller Center tree lighting is in its 79th year — a not well known fact is that the Washington Square tradition, at year 87, surpasses it in age.

Photo of this year’s tree(2011): Fernandohn via Instagram.

Christmas Eve Past & Present – Caroling under the Washington Square Arch This Christmas Eve, December 24th, 5 p.m.


An annual tradition, Caroling under the Washington Square Arch, will take place Thursday, December 24th, 5 p.m.

Last Christmas Eve, I stopped by the Caroling under the Arch. The door was open on the right side of the base of the Arch where there are stairs that lead to the top. It was hard to resist the urge to dash up! As the caroling ended, it began to rain and people dispersed quickly.

I wrote at the time:

The rain held off until just as the music ended. Afterwards, a woman with her children (maybe they missed the caroling?) sang their own carols under the Arch. Two people appeared practicing Tai Chi against the inside ‘legs’ of the Arch. There was basically no one else left at this point.

This photo was taken afterwards; it had started raining and the crowd had dispersed but there was something almost meditative and redemptive about the rain against the backdrop of the decorated tree and the magnificent Arch(now out from under its gates), amidst the close-to-deserted Washington Square Park on Christmas Eve.

Looking for some holiday spirit? Get some via this delightful video featuring the Mounds, children sledding and a snow-covered Washington Square Park, from last year’s Christmas Eve blog entry.

Note: The Mounds are currently under construction and will be recreated in Washington Square Park Redesign:Phase II with some (controversial) new features, including the use of artificial turf.

Have a great holiday and best wishes in the New Year!

New Blog Postings Resume in the New Year 2010.

Photo: Cat

Christmas Eve at the Washington Square Arch

I went to the Christmas Eve festivities under the Arch. There was a small band and song sheets and caroling and some people wearing holiday gear (reindeer hats?). There was a good sized crowd. The event seemed to draw a lot of people from the community and beyond. The rain held off until just as the music ended. Afterwards, a woman with her children (maybe they missed the caroling?) sang their own carols under the Arch. Two people appeared practicing Tai Chi against the inside ‘legs’ of the Arch. There was basically no one else left at this point.

This photo was taken afterwards; it had started raining and the crowd had dispersed but there was something almost meditative and redemptive about the rain against the backdrop of the decorated tree and the magnificent Arch(now out from under its gates), amidst the close-to-deserted Washington Square Park on Christmas Eve.

Wednesday December 24th, Christmas Eve Festivities/Caroling, at the Arch 5 p.m.

Washington Sq Park Arch Tree

Washington Sq Park Arch Tree

So if you, like me, missed the tree being lit and the caroling earlier this month, you can come by the Washington Square Park Arch on Christmas Eve, December 24th, at 5 p.m. and join in on some holiday festivities (including caroling).

New York Daily Photo has a doctored photo of the tree and Arch bathed in white in a post from earlier this month. Brian Dubé who runs the site stopped by the tree lighting and here is an excerpt of some of his thoughts:

Historically I have been rather scroogish in my attitude towards Christmas, bristling at its overly commercial nature. But over time, I have softened, and realize that nothing is gained in being a curmudgeon. Why stand alone on principle and isolate yourself, while the rest of the world is busy singing around you? I am not saying that one should throw principle into the wind, but certainly looking for the good is not the worst life approach. So I see holidays as opportunities to celebrate – and there are so many ways and places to celebrate everything imaginable here, both religious and secular.

He writes that the Washington Square Park tree lighting is in its 82nd year and that “the ritual actually dates back earlier than the tree lighting in Rockefeller Center.”

The photo above was taken by J. Bary.