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Christmas Goes Green


New York's Rockefeller Center Plaza is one of the city's most recognizable landmarks - and one of its most popular tourist stops as well. The busiest time of year comes during the Christmas season, when a giant tree is put up and decorated with tens of thousands of Christmas lights. This year comes a new twist on this old holiday tradition. As VOA's George Dwyer reports, for the first time, New York's most famous tree has been made eco-friendly. Jim Bertel narrates.

The annual lighting of New York's Rockefeller Center Christmas tree has become a beloved holiday tradition in this city.

"I think you could see it from space. It's so bright," says a young girl.

A fan for many years, a woman says, "I've been coming here every Christmas season with my parents since I was a little girl, and tonight being the first night that it's lit, I just think it's so magical."

Now, thanks to the magic of technology, a glowing innovation has transformed the whole experience. Rockefeller Center gardens manager David Murbach explains, "They've taken 30,000 energy-saving light bulbs for this tree these (so-called) LED's. And it uses one third of the power that we used in past years to light this tree. And then up on the building roof, they put 363 solar panels, and the biggest solar panel in New York City to light this. It feeds into the grid and powers this tree when it's lit."

L.E.D.'s - which stand for light-emitting diodes - are miniaturized light bulbs illuminated by a flow of electrons. L.E.D.'s shed less energy as heat, and so require less electricity to power them than do traditional filament lights. Officials estimate the energy savings per day for the Rockefeller Center tree is equivalent to what an average family in the U.S. uses in a month.

"That means that it is going to cut into the carbon emissions that lead to climate change and it is eventually going to save the city money," says, Robert Musil. Musil is a scholar-in-residence at American University in Washington and is writing a book on sustainable environmental practices.

He says re-fitting the Rockefeller Center tree is part of a larger effort by New York and other communities to cut energy use and fight global warming while still maintaining the Christmas spirit. "So even though we are still going to have a festive feel to the city and people do not have to associate global warming with gloom, they can associate it with energy savings - they can do that easily at home as well."

Across the United States millions of homeowners put up Christmas light displays, some of which can be very elaborate. The Union of Concerned Scientists - a professional group that advocates environmentally friendly solutions - says the power used by America's Christmas lights can generate as much global warming pollution as 250,000 cars.

Across the country it seems people are beginning to realize that it may be time to tone things down a bit. Musil adds, "So there is a growing movement to sort of deconsumerize Christmas. This leads to energy savings and fighting global warming as well."

Evidence that this movement is gathering momentum came earlier this month when President Bush attended the lighting of the National Christmas tree in Washington - it too is L.E.D. illuminated for the first time.

You might even call it a tradition reborn.