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Lesbian couple supply Rockefeller Center tree for the first time

Sofia Lotto Persio November 29, 2018
Lesbian couple Shirley Figueroa and Lissette Gutierrez pose with the Rockefeller Center tree they donated.

Shirley Figueroa and Lissette Gutierrez donated their tree Shelby to the Rockefeller Center. (Rockefeller Center/Facebook)

The Rockefeller Center tree lit up on Wednesday, officially inaugurating New York’s festive season.

The star of the tree-lighting ceremony was a 72-foot Norway spruce Christmas tree, which was donated by a lesbian couple for the first time, The New York Times reported.

Married couple Shirley Figueroa and Lissette Gutierrez bought a home in Wallkill, 60 miles north of New York City, last year.

Within the property’s premises was the tree, which the Rockefeller Center’s head gardener Erik Pauze had already spotted five years ago.

Pauze is tasked with picking the Rockefeller Center tree, which is donated every year from a different part of the country—once, even from Canada. “This is a beautiful tree,” he told The New York Post, describing this year’s pick.

Shirley Figueroa and Lissette Gutierrez accompanied Shelby, the Rockefeller Center tree of choice for 2018, on her journey to Manhattan.
Shirley Figueroa and Lissette Gutierrez donated their tree Shelby to the Rockefeller Center. (Rockefeller Center/Facebook)

The 75-year-old tree, affectionately nicknamed Shelby as the couple think “she has a female spirit,” now weights 12 tons and boasts a 45-foot diameter.

The couple, who are both Puerto Rican, accompanied the tree to Manhattan when it first arrived in front of the Rockefeller Center on November 10.

“She’s going to get the jewels she deserves.”

— Lissette Gutierrez

They were honoured to contribute to the city’s Christmas festivities.

“Now it’s not my tree, it’s the world’s tree. I’m so happy to be able to share her with everyone,” Figueroa told the Associated Press.

For Figueroa, the occasion felt particularly special as she grew up in the Bronx, in a block where there were no trees.

“Just the fact that I have a tree that I can donate when I came from somewhere that had no trees—it’s so surreal,” Figueroa told the Times.

View of the Christmas tree before 86th Annual Rockefeller Center Tree Lighting Ceremony .
Shelby overlooks the Rockefeller Center ahead of the lighting ceremony. (John Lamparski/Getty)

Ahead of the Rockefeller Center tree lighting ceremony, Shelby was decorated with 50,000 multi-coloured LED lights and was crowned with a crystal-encrusted Swarovski star designed by architect Daniel Libeskind.

“She’s going to get the jewels she deserves,” Gutierrez, who admitted she was initially reluctant to give up the tree, told NBC’s Today Show earlier this month.

When was the first Rockefeller Center tree lit up?

Wednesday’s lighting ceremony was the 86th in New York’s history. The tradition originates from Christmas Eve 1931, the year construction of Rockefeller Center began.

People gather around the Rockefeller Center tree.
People pose for pictures near the Rockefeller Center tree during the annual lighting ceremony on November 28, 2018. (Don Emmert/AFP/Getty)

The Great Depression was still biting, and construction workers building what would become one of the city’s most iconic buildings decided to pool their money to buy a 20-foot tree.

The Christmas tree was then decorated with garlands made by their families. In 1933, Rockefeller Center officials decided to make the tree an annual tradition, lighting up a 50-foot tree in November that year.

This year, the Rockefeller Center tree will remain on display until January 7, when Shelby will be dismantled and donated to Habitat for Humanity to help build housing.

More: Christmas, lesbian couple, New York, Puerto Rico, Rockefeller Center, US

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