December 12, 2023

Binghamton professor donates Rockefeller Center Christmas tree

Author: Kara Smith
Source:  NYSUT Communications
rockefeller center tree
Caption: Jackie and Matt McGinley pose with their children Charlie and Zooey in front of the wrapped 80-foot tall Norway Spruce that the family donated to serve as this year's Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree. Jackie McGinley is an assistant professor of social work at SUNY Binghamton. Photo by Diane Bondareff/AP Images for Tishman Speyer.

Jackie McGinley and her family literally spread “joy to the world” this holiday season by donating the official 2023 Rockefeller Center Christmas tree. The United University Professions-Binghamton member’s 80-foot tall, 12-ton Norway Spruce was spotted in her yard last year by Rockefeller Center’s Head Gardener Erik Pauze who was in the area checking out another tree.

“He pulled into our driveway a year later and asked to look at our tree,” said McGinley an assistant professor of social work at SUNY Binghamton. From then on Pauze visited every few weeks for the past four or five months to groom and fertilize it. The family didn’t know if their tree would be “the tree” until late September or early October. “The process is secretive,” said McGinley noting that a good part of the summer was spent managing the excitement of their two daughters 12-year-old Zooey and 9-year-old Charlie. “We would say ‘we don’t know what will happen’ … we knew we were on the short list but didn’t know for sure.”

Competition is stiff for the honor. Rockefeller Center Christmas trees aren’t limited to New York state. Past tree locations include Pennsylvania, Ottawa Canada, Maine and Maryland. “New York City is a place where people come from all over the USA and the world,” said McGinley. “It honors the idea that it’s not just New York’s tree but a global tree.”

Once it came time for the tree to begin its journey to Rockefeller Center in early November, a team of 10 gardeners traveled to their Vestal home to individually wrap each tree branch in twine and burlap so it could be trussed up and placed on a truck bed. Once wrapped, the tree was stabilized with a crane and cut down with a chain saw. “The wrapping took about a week, and minutes to cut down,” said McGinley who marveled at the professionalism of the tree team. “They are so skilled at what they do. Nothing prepares you for the process. I thought of how long it took my husband and I to cut down our Christmas tree at the farm and was amazed at their work.”

McGinley and her family were invited to New York City for the tree’s arrival and dedication and Rockefeller Center gardeners planted arborvitae where the tree once stood. “Very early in the process we decided that this would be about giving to others,” she said. “There was something significant about when it was cut and taken away. We felt it was no longer our tree but everyone’s tree.”

As the director of SUNY Binghamton’s newly launched online Master of Social Work program, McGinley didn’t teach this semester, which proved helpful. “It would have been hard to hold in that secret in front of a class each week,” she said noting that finally telling her inaugural cohort of grad students about the tree has been exciting since some are based in New York City. “I love the idea that they can travel a few subway stops and visit a tree that stood in my yard.”

Does your tree have what it takes to be a Rockefeller Center Christmas tree? Visit to nominate it!