News analysis | Tree lighting survives recession

Though the national recession may put a damper on holiday spirit, it seems that the city’s 60-foot Norway spruce is safe from financial woes.

For now.

Though Mayor John DeStefano Jr. announced at this year’s Halloween parade that public events and celebrations, such as the annual St. Patrick’s Day parade or summer festivals, might need to be placed on the back burner as the city’s budget wears thin, this year’s Christmas tree-lighting event was as grandiose as ever.

In response to the national financial crisis, Gov. M. Jodi Rell announced two weeks ago the cancellation of annual holiday party traditionally hosted at the governor’s residence. But City Hall Spokeswoman Jessica Mayorga said funds for this year’s Christmas celebration had already been earmarked in New Haven’s budget and plans for the event were already put in place when the mayor made his Halloween announcement. She did not have numbers available regarding the cost of specific cultural events.

There are no guarantees that there will be room in next year’s budget for all the events the city usually hosts, Mayorga said, but she maintained that DeStefano understands the importance of the annual tree-lighting celebration.

“Next year, we’ll see where we are with the budget, and at that point we’ll have to make some decisions,” Mayorga said.

One reason why DeStefano did not decide to cancel the Christmas tree lighting ceremony was because the ceremony itself is not all that expensive, Deputy Director of Parks and Squares Christy Hass said. The tree is donated to the city every year, and though the city must pay for the cranes and manpower to transport the tree to the New Haven Green, light strings and decorations are reused each year, Hass said.

But more than that, Hass said, the mayor knows that the luminescent tree brings a pleasure to local residents that outweighs the cost of erecting it.

“When you look at what it does to the community, in terms of bringing everyone together, the value is intrinsic,” Hass said.

The lighting of the city Christmas tree was never as extravagant until DeStefano became mayor, Hass said. After he entered office, the mayor decided to upgrade the annual holiday festivities and bring to the Green a larger, more festooned tree reminiscent of the shrub that graces the Rockefeller Center each year, Hass said.

Choosing the proper tree can oftentimes be the hardest part of preparing for the Christmas tree-lighting ceremony, Hass said; she and an arborist must search for a tree that is the appropriate height and thickness with straight branches and a single peak. Then, it takes city workers one week to safely strap the tree to a flatbed truck for its trip to New Haven. Once it arrives on the Green, city employees have five weeks to decorate the spruce with 20,000 lights.

The tree usually stays in the Green until Three Kings’ Day, which falls on Jan. 6.

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