Country Throwback: Garth Brooks and Hillary Clinton Switch on Christmas Tree Lights at Rockefeller Center 22 Years Ago Today

by Clayton Edwards
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The lighting of the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree is a long-standing American tradition. Every year, the tree is lit by the current mayor of New York along with special guests. Over the years, the guests have included Presidents, First Ladies, and a litany of celebrity guests. On this day in 1998, Garth Brooks and First Lady Hillary Clinton joined the festivities.

The Rockefeller Christmas Tree

The Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center has been a yearly tradition for almost a century. The first tree was erected in 1931. The crews working on constructing Rockefeller Center pooled their money and bought a 20-foot tall balsam fir. The tree was decorated with homemade ornaments and even a few tin cans.

Two years later, the first official Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree Lighting was held. The tree was dubbed a beacon of holiday spirit for native New Yorkers and visitors alike. The tradition of lighting the tree every year was only interrupted by blackout regulations during World War II.

From 1944 until after the war’s end the tree remained decorated but unlit. The next year, they employed several ultraviolet light projectors to make the bulbs of the tree appear to glow in the dark. Since then, the tree has been lit every year.

This year, workers found an adorable stowaway in the Rockefeller Christmas tree. A tiny northern saw-whet owl, later named Rockefeller, was found tucked in the tree’s branches. It was rehabilitated and released back into the wild.

The lighting ceremony usually includes musical guests and thousands of spectators. Since 1997, the festivities have been broadcast live to audiences across the country and around the world.

Garth Brooks Tree Lighting

In 1998, Garth Brooks had plenty to celebrate. When the ceremony took place he was fresh off of a world tour. He played 220 shows all around the globe to promote his albums “Fresh Horses” and “Sevens.”

Earlier that year, the Academy of Country Music had named him Entertainer of the Year. Garth Brooks was on a roll in 1998.

Before lending his hand to press the giant red button, Brooks lent his voice to the crowd. He, Cyndi Lauper, and Jewel performed Christmas music to set the mood for the occasion. By the time the countdown came, the crowd was awash in holiday cheer.

The then First Lady had not attended a Rockefeller tree lighting until that night. The fact that she was able to not only light the tree but also do it alongside one of the greatest entertainers of the time surely made it that much more special.

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