NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — There’s no place like New York City during the holidays, but the usual grandeur is different this year.
As CBS2’s Ali Bauman reports, it’s a New York City tradition, and even though the lights haven’t been turned on yet, people are already stopping by to see the tree for themselves.
If you’re planning a visit once the lights turn on, prepare for some COVID-compliant changes.
Standing 75 feet tall and 45 feet wide, the Norway spruce comes to Midtown Manhattan from Oneonta, New York. Its admirers hail from all over.
“New York Christmas is the best Christmas,” said visitor Louisa Gallagher.
PROTOCOLS ANNOUNCED to see @rockcenternyc Xmas tree: Guests will be directed to delineated pods, spaced 6 ft apart, no more than 4 ppl in one pod. Groups of more than four people will be separated into two pods. 5 minutes max to take it in @CBSNewYork
— Lisa Rozner (@LisaRoznerTV) November 30, 2020
“That means that Christmas is coming,” said 8-year-old David Martinez.
Once its 50,000 LED lights are turned on this Wednesday, the tree will stay lit every day from 6 a.m. to midnight.
49th and 50th streets between 5th and 6th Avenues will be closed to traffic and become dedicated tree viewing zones, which have the only entrances for viewers.
Center plaza, where the tree is physically located, will be closed to the public.
Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city and state have agreed on a ticketing plan to limit crowd sizes during the pandemic.
“A different approach, but an approach that will keep people safe. I keep saying and I’ll say it again, so we can get through to next year,” the mayor said Monday. “Next year, I look forward to so many of our traditions to come back so we can be there in person and enjoy them the way we always have and that we cherish.”
“But let’s stay safe this year, so everyone can get through to next year and enjoy those traditions together,” he added.
“It’s sad cause of COVID times, but hopefully with the lights and decorations and hooplah it will make it more cheery,” said visitor Sarah Ribek.
To manage social distancing in line, there will be virtual queueing this year, with guests scanning a QR code for their wait time. They’ll receive a text message when it’s time to go.
Once you’re up, there’s a five minute viewing limit at the tree, and of course masks are required and six foot social distancing will be enforced.
Guests will also be directed to delineated pods, spaced six feet apart, with a maximum of four people per pod.
“It’s good to have some sort of tradition. Makes you feel like all this craziness isn’t going on around us right now,” Gallagher said.
The tree lighting ceremony will be on Dec. 2, but you’ll have to catch it on TV because it is closed to the public this year.
On Monday night, Saks Fifth Avenue invited three New York City doctors to turn on their 10-story light show.
The flagship store is livestreaming these nightly ceremonies so viewers can enjoy the display from the safety of their home.
Of course, passersby can’t help but stare.
“It’s something amazing, it’s something beautiful that you don’t see everywhere,” said Juan Torres.
5th Avenue lights are up! pic.twitter.com/PMwpIVN7iB
— Ali Bauman (@AliBaumanTV) December 1, 2020
The annual Columbus Circle and Union Square holiday markets are not opening this year because of COVID, but shoppers are encouraged to spend their money over at Bryant Park.
There a fewer kiosks at the Bryant Park Holiday Market this year to allow for more spacious walkways.
The kiosks are either keeping customers outside or enforcing strict capacity limits.
You can also spot handwashing stations in the park.
“We thought, it’s corona time, we’re not gonna get any tourists or anything and, while that is true, we do get a lot of locals that usually go to Union Square or other markets that are ending up buying gifts from here this time,” said Hamid Ullah, a vendor.
The holidays may not be as crowded in Manhattan this year, but there are still ways to enjoy the pomp and these unusual circumstances.
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