11. America’s First Christmas Tree Lighting Occurred In Madison Square

madison square park christmas tree 1912 flatiron district new york untapped cities samantha sokolImage via Library of Congress

Every year, people around the country await the Christmas tree lighting at Rockefeller Center to ring in the holiday season. Though it’s now a nationally popular event, American Christmas tree displays actually have their origins in Madison Square Park. The first, albeit simple, public Christmas tree lighting occurred here in 1912. The tree was from the Adirondacks with lights from the Edison Company

Interestingly, the tree was erected for more than just the holidays; it was part of a progressive movement to address New York City’s impoverished. According to The Bowery Boys, Emilie Herreshoff planned it to emulate European civic customs as a “clean, proper, somber affair, closely tied to Jacob Riis’s equally non-riotous New Years Eve celebration scheduled the week after –righteous counter-programming to the Times Square celebration.” Riis believed that the holidays weren’t a time for wild behavior, and that events like Christmas tree lightings would give the poor with “acceptable” alternatives.

Today, the Star of Hope monument in Madison Square Park honors the approximate point of the first tree lighting.