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Rockefeller Center’s scraggly Christmas tree is deemed ‘a metaphor for 2020’

The 2020 Rockefeller Center Christmas tree is craned into place on Nov. 14 in New York City. (Video: Tishman Speyer)

It seems inevitable, for a year in which so little has gone well, that something would be awry with the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree — an annual source of holiday joy. If 2020 were a movie, we’d complain that the screenwriters are getting lazy. This plot point is a little too on-Rudolph’s-nose.

And yet, here we are. On Saturday, the 75-foot-tall tree from Oneonta, N.Y., arrived at its yearly home in front of 30 Rockefeller Plaza. As a crane lowered it into place, the Norway spruce looked a little worse for wear. The bottom limbs appeared to be bare, and its needles hung limply, as if the tree had just climbed out of the shower. Meanwhile, it leaned to the side, as if unsteady on its trunk.

This tree now sits in the same place as the first one in 1931, a 20-foot balsam fir that workers at the center — which was then under construction — pooled their money to purchase as a display of optimism during the Great Depression. The same place where, in 1932, an iconic photograph captured 11 workers eating lunch on a suspended girder, their legs dangling hundreds of feet over the streets of New York City.

Much as that photograph became emblematic of one period of American life, for many, this new tree serves as a symbol of today’s.

“In true 2020 form, the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree looks like it tried to cut its own hair,” tweeted pianist Chris Ryan.

“The Rockefeller Christmas tree, just like the rest of us, really been through things in 2020,” quipped UX designer Brett S. Vegara.

“Even the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree is tired of 2020,” tweeted political scientist Ian Bremmer.

It was called “a metaphor for 2020,” compared to “the apocalypse we’re living in” and deemed “just about what I’d expect” out of the 2020 tree.

“The 2020 Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree looks like one of those really old tree people in ‘Lord of the Rings’ that just wanders off into the forest to die,” tweeted New York Times journalist Liam Stack.

It couldn’t help but remind many others of another down-on-his-luck fellow with a sad-looking Christmas tree: Charlie Brown.

In the 1965 animated television special “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” the meek hero finds himself depressed even though the holiday season has begun. He sets out on a mission to find a Christmas tree for the school’s Nativity play. The best one he can find is a bald, wilting sapling.

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“2020 Rockefeller Center christmas Tree be looking like Charlie Brown!” tweeted YouTuber Keemstar.

“Charlie Brown: I have the saddest Christmas Tree. Rockefeller Center: Hold my beer,” tweeted podcaster Emily Brandwin.

“I feel bad for the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree or How I Learned That I’m Charlie Brown After All and other Christmas tales,” tweeted NPR producer Lauren Migaki, referencing Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 movie “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.”

Maybe this is good news. Anyone who remembers the Charlie Brown special knows that it ends with the entire “Peanuts” gang banding together to decorate the little tree, singing carols all the while, to successfully cheer up Charlie Brown.

And, as it turns out, that could be pretty much what happens here.

“When it’s unwrapped and first put up, the branches don’t immediately all snap back into place, and those are the photos you’re seeing. It takes a while before it fully settles,” a spokesperson for Rockefeller Center told NBC’s “Today.” (The Washington Post has put in a request for comment.)

The Rockefeller Center’s official Twitter account quipped, “Wow, you all must look great right after a two-day drive, huh? Just wait until I get my lights on! See you on December 2!”

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Anyhow, the tree has already brought some holiday cheer — apart from everyone joining together to rag on it. Secretly nestled inside the tree for the entire 170-mile journey was a saw-whet owl, the smallest kind that lives in the Northeast. The owl was eventually taken to the Ravensbeard Wildlife Center in Saugerties, N.Y.

“All baby owls are born in the spring so the idea that there was a baby owl in November didn’t make sense,” the center said in a Facebook post. “We’ve given him fluids and are feeding him all the mice he will eat. It had been three days since he ate or drank anything. So far so good, his eyes are bright and seems relatively in good condition with all he’s been through. Once he checks in with the vet and gets a clean bill of health, he’ll be released to continue on his wild and wonderful journey.”

Let’s hope that’s the part that ends up being a metaphor for the end of 2020.

This story has been updated.

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