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Maryland couple donates spruce as Rockefeller Center's 2021 Christmas tree

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FAIR HILL, Md. — The normally sleepy streets of Cecil County, Md., near the University of Delaware and White Clay Creek State Park were buzzing with activity the morning of Nov. 11, as one of the most iconic holiday symbols in the United States began its journey.

Hundreds of spectators, media and workers descended on the home of Devon and Julie Price, parishioners at Immaculate Conception Church in Elkton, Md., to watch as a 79-foot-tall, 46-foot-wide Norway spruce was cut down and removed from their property.

It was placed on a flatbed trailer bound for New York City, where it arrived Nov. 13 and was raised as the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center. It will be adorned with 50,000 lights and topped by a star, with the lighting ceremony scheduled for Dec. 1.

"We're very excited for that," Julie Price said. "Actually, a lot of our neighbors have told us that they'll be going to New York City to see the tree, so that's exciting."

The Prices were inundated with interview requests as their friends and neighbors watched from their yard and along narrow Hillwood Avenue, where the family has lived for 30 years. Devon Price said it's an honor to have a tree that he has nurtured symbolize the season of Jesus' birth for the entire nation.

"The decision to let it go to New York City to bring joy and happiness to millions of people — when we started off, we were reluctant, but obviously it's the right decision for a better purpose for the tree than standing in the yard," he said.

He said Christmas has always been a special occasion for his family, which includes a son and daughter.

"It's real festive, really always a big deal. A lot of decorations, a lot of presents, a lot of giving and a lot of family time," he told The Dialog, the newspaper of the Diocese of Wilmington, Del., which includes several Maryland counties.

The Prices always have had a live tree, but never one from their own property, which includes several acres. Theirs were always too big, he said.

His daughter, Natalie Longo, traveled from her home in north Wilmington to catch the action. She said the entire process has been "unreal."

"It's a bittersweet moment because this tree's been in our yard my entire life. It's going to be sad to see it go, but my birthday's around Christmas, and going to New York City around Christmastime has always been a tradition of ours," Longo said. "It's going to be really special to have our tree representing Rockefeller Center."

Devon Price said the selection of the Norway spruce began in March with a knock on his door. It was Erik Pauze, the head gardener at Rockefeller Center.

"He just knocked on our door, and he said, 'Hey bud, how are you doing?' Honest to God, we thought he was a salesman. Julie said, 'I think it's a salesman. You go answer it,'" Price said.

Pauze was on hand Nov. 11 to oversee the removal of the tree from the yard. It had been tied up, and several workers held ropes to prevent it from falling once the chain saw had gotten through the trunk.

He said back in March he had been in southern New Jersey scouting trees at a nursery for a park being built on top of Rockefeller Center, and he decided to stick around the area instead of heading back to New York.

He happened upon the Price property and walked around taking photographs from different angles.

"When I drove by it, I went around the corner, drove to the other side of the tree. When I got out of the car, I knew right away that this was the tree," he said. "This is going to be just as beautiful as all the other ones."

Devon Price said there was some initial reluctance to let go of the tree.

"We watched it grow and took care of it. The decision to let it go to New York City was a hard one, but at the end of the day, we've taken down a number of these large trees. This one's in its prime, so we thought we'd let it go for a better purpose before it starts to decline," he said.

The family got a ride to New York to see the tree raised, and they may be there for the tree lighting.

"It's a donation to Rockefeller Center and the world," Pauze said.

Lumber from the tree will be donated to Habitat for Humanity once the holiday season is over.

Longo said growing up Catholic, she knows the importance of the Christmas season around the country and the world. She anticipates the tree she played under as a child will be a part of other people's milestones, such as birthdays, proposals and bucket-list trips.

"I hope it brings a lot of joy to everybody," she said.

Lang is a reporter at The Dialog, newspaper of the Diocese of Wilmington.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021