The Big Duck — or the big tree?
It's a tough call. But if you want to see some holiday lights in our area this week, you can catch lighting ceremonies at Rockefeller Center in Manhattan or at the Big Duck in Flanders. Both events begin Wednesday at 7 p.m.
The annual ceremony at 30 Rock will be a national spectacle, broadcast live on NBC during the "Christmas in Rockefeller Center" special hosted by Kelly Clarkson. The lighting will feature more than 50,000 multicolored LEDs strung on five miles of wire covering the 80-year-old, 80-foot-tall, 43-foot-wide Norway spruce at the center of attention. The 12-ton tree, which was harvested in upstate Vestal, will be topped with a 9-foot, 900-pound Swarovski star.
Festivities at the duck will be more homespun, with Santa Claus riding in on a fire truck from the Flanders Fire Department, carols sung by the Riverhead Middle School choir, and thousands of lights to illuminate the one-of-a-kind historic Long Island landmark — the 20-foot-tall, 30-foot-long, 18-foot-wide ferrocement duck, built in 1931 by duck farmer Martin Maurer.
"It's a yearly tradition, a fun family event," Town of Southampton Supervisor Jay Schneiderman said of the lighting ceremony, which dates to 1988. "The duck is iconic to Suffolk County, but it's also a beloved symbol of the Flanders-Riverhead community — and, while it's celebrated throughout the year, the lighting at The Big Duck really is a moment. It's certainly going to be different than the lighting ceremony in Rockefeller Center."
Picking the perfect tree for 30 Rock
For Erik Pauze, the Rockefeller Center chief gardener, selecting the tree for 30 Rock is a labor of love that began with a summer internship while a student at SUNY Farmingdale — now Farmingdale State College — in 1988. Since 2010, Pauze, who is the longtime treasurer of the Long Island Arboricultural Association, has been responsible for finding the Rockefeller Center tree seen by millions.
This year's tree was found almost by accident. Pauze had gone to see a different tree, but wasn't sure it would work. When he passed another tree, he decided to stop in and meet the homeowners.
"I happened to catch them in the driveway," Pauze said, "and I went up, introduced myself."
The first reaction was disbelief. Then, the wife Googled Pauze and realized he was who he said he was. "The family said someone had just told them a month before, 'This looks like a Rockefeller Center tree' … This was June. Probably around August, they agreed to donate it."
Pauze said he loves bringing the tree to the city, seeing the same crew and police officers responsible for the move, getting the tree set up and decorated, then seeing it lit.
The best part? "I think it really might be the find, knowing this is the tree that's going to make millions of people happy," he said.
Once lit, the 30 Rock tree will remain illuminated daily from 5 a.m. to midnight through Jan. 13. It will be lit 24 hours on Christmas Day and from 5 a.m. until 9 p.m. on New Year's Eve.
Pauze said he's also a fan of The Big Duck, calling it "pretty cool," though due to his work at 30 Rock, he's never been able to go see it lit.
But visiting the decked-out duck has fast become a Long Island tradition for thousands, Schneiderman said.
"Certainly, Rockefeller Center will draw a lot more people, but the duck is Suffolk County's Rockefeller Center," he said. "There's something about The Big Duck that lends itself to celebration. I usually tell a few jokes. Santa arrives on a fire truck. What could be more fun?"
- The Big Duck. While Suffolk County Transit Bus 92 stops there, the best bet is personal transport. The duck is located on Route 24-Flanders Road, east of Tanger Outlets, downtown Riverhead, Route 51 and the terminal of the Long Island Expressway.
- 30 Rock, Rockefeller Center. There's plenty of garages around 30 Rock, but considering heavy traffic and hefty parking prices, the best bet is the Long Island Rail Road to Penn Station, Grand Central Terminal or Forest Hills — then the subway to Rockefeller Center. The 1 train from Penn is two stops to 50th Street, while the 6 train from Grand Central is one stop to 51st. The B, D, F, N, Q and R all service stations within a short walk of 30 Rock, with the B, D and F stopping at 47-50th Street Rockefeller Center and the N, Q and R stopping at 49th Street. The MTA notes commuters can take the F and R from 71st-Continental in Forest Hills to Rockefeller Center stops, but there's no M service to the area. Buses providing access to the area around 30 Rock include the M1, M2, M3, M4 and M5 to 50th and the M50 to 49th.