Deck the halls and lace your skates! For decades, one New York City ice rink has opened for winter skating. Then came COVID-19. Because of the pandemic, the storied Rink at Rockefeller Center is changing some rules this season. But for New Yorkers and hordes of visitors, some holiday traditions are worth the changes.
In 1928, wealthy businessman John D. Rockefeller leased 22 acres along Fifth Avenue. Over the next 11 years, he financed 14 structures—smack dab in the middle of Manhattan during the Great Depression.
In the early years, Rockefeller’s Center Theatre showed films and presented variety shows. The theater also hosted huge “icestravaganzas,” or skating performances. Sonja Henie, the world’s most famous skater of the day, often starred in these shows.
Today, Rockefeller Center is a complex of 19 buildings. It boasts several rooftop gardens and houses Radio City Music Hall, NBC Studios, two publishing houses, an observation deck, specialty shops, and more.
Rockefeller Center’s huge, twinkling Christmas tree, bustling shoppers, and twirling skaters have become part of American culture. All regularly pop up in television and movies, including The Today Show, Miracle on 34th Street, Elf, and Home Alone 2.
No place at “The Rock” is more famous than the ice rink. For many people, skating at Rockefeller Center is a bucket-list item.
But the area wasn’t always for skating. The lower courtyard in front of 30 Rockefeller Plaza once led to a shopping mall.
According to legend, “a Depression-era skate salesman” inspired the rink. The unnamed vendor skated on a frozen Rockefeller fountain to showcase his wares.
The so-called “skating pond” officially opened on Christmas Day in 1936. The rink was meant to be temporary. But it became so popular that the Rockefeller management made it a permanent winter fixture.
Since 1934, an 18-foot golden statue of Prometheus has watched over the icy oval. According to Greek mythology, Prometheus brought fire to mankind. (Fire and ice. Ironic, huh?)
Celebrities often visit The Rink. They include the aforementioned Henie, herself a gold medalist, as well as Olympians Kristi Yamaguchi, Scott Hamilton, and Serena Williams.
On a normal year, the rink hosts more than 150,000 visitors. This year, officials are taking COVID-19 precautions. Fewer people will be allowed on the ice at a time. Skate times shrank from 90 minutes to 50 minutes. Masks must be worn.
These changes seem a small price to pay for one of the country’s best-loved holiday treats. And “loving their neighbors as themselves” (Mark 12:31) seems fitting to the season. Robert G. from Texas on TripAdvisor calls the rink, “The best of New York.”