"It's been an awesome experience," said Tracey Davison, 40, a teacher's assistant from Pascagoula, Miss. "I have a famous living room because of the tree from last year, and my girls and I have had a spectacular trip to New York for the first time."
This year's tree was decorated with 30,000 energy-efficient LED lights on five miles of wire, topped with a 750-pound star made of 25,000 Swarovski crystals. It was donated by the Varanyak family in Hamilton Township, N.J.
Among the thousands of onlookers who gathered to watch the annual tradition were Davison and her four daughters: Ashunti, 10; Nylah, 9; Majsa, 8; and Karly, 4.
The family, who fled Katrina with just a few suitcases, recently moved into a new three-bedroom house built by Habitat for Humanity. Parts of the walls and floors in their living room were made with lumber from last year's tree.
"It's kinda like Christmas before Christmas," said Davison. "It was a dream come true. We're very, very excited to be in the house."
Others who lined the streets to watch the celebrity performers and the ceremony were Anita McLean, 71, her son and her two grandchildren, ages 14 and 11.
"It's my fourth year, and I'm not cold," she said, adding that she stood for more than three hours to secure a viewing spot for the lights. "Just being together, the excitement of the day, it's keeping with the spirit of Christmas."
In past years, the Rockefeller Center tree has been recycled after the holiday season, being made into toys for animals at the Bronx Zoo and mulched for hiking trails.
The tree lighting ceremony started in 1933, but workers building the Art Deco complex began putting up Christmas trees in 1931 during the Great Depression.