NEW YORK (NYTIMES) - It would be difficult to find anyone in New York who has had an easy time of it in 2020.
With the coronavirus surging, the mayor shut the city's schools down again. The governor set limits on the size of family gatherings as the holidays approach. Transit officials said that subway service could soon be cut nearly in half. And that was just the past week or so.
So when this year's Rockefeller Centre Christmas tree went up last weekend, maybe it made sense for some commentators on social media to pounce on what they perceived as the huge Norway spruce's unusually scraggly state, and to see it as emblematic of the year overall.
"If it was a beautiful tree, that would have been surprising," said Ms Emily Brandwin, a podcaster, describing her immediate reaction to seeing an image of the tree. "2020 is a trash can, and it's like, of course, we can't have nice things."
Ms Brandwin was among many with something to say about the tree.
On Twitter, users wrote that the tree looked like it "had cut its own hair" and had "just like the rest of us, really been through things".
Another, echoing Ms Brandwin, said it was "a metaphor for 2020".
Although despair, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder, the 23m, 11 tonne evergreen that arrived in Midtown Manhattan this year after a more than 300km trip from upstate Oneonta looked the same as its predecessors had in past years when they were being installed, said Ms EB Kelly, managing director of Tishman Speyer, the real estate firm that owns Rockefeller Centre.
Workers had wrapped the tree tightly before making the long drive, Ms Kelly said, and it would take the branches time to settle back into their usual position after the tree was unwrapped and placed upright.
What people were seeing, she said, were the "normal effects" of that process. She rejected the idea that the tree was any kind of metaphor for 2020.
"It is beautiful and full," Ms Kelly said. People would not be disappointed by the tree's appearance, she added, when it lights up on Dec 2 in this year's version of one of the city's most enduring holiday traditions and, in typical times, one of its major tourist attractions.
In a post on Twitter, the Rockefeller Centre said: "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!"
Unlike the tree, though, the lighting ceremony will feel 2020's effects: The public will not be allowed to attend in person. Those who want a close-up look will be able to get one after that until early January, although under more controlled circumstances than usual. Those logistics are still being worked out, Ms Kelly said.
Online interest in this year's tree took a more positive turn on Wednesday when it emerged that one of the workers who had helped transport and install the tree had found a small owl in its branches.
A message posted on the Facebook page of the Ravensbeard Wildlife Centre in Saugerties, New York, said that the centre had been contacted by the worker's wife, who said her husband was on his way home with the owl "in a box tucked in for the long ride".
The woman subsequently delivered the bird to an employee at the centre, who identified it as a saw-whet owl.
Centre employees were giving the owl, which they named "Rockefeller", fluids and "all the mice he will eat", the Facebook post said. They planned to release him "to continue his wild and wonderful journey" once he received "a clean bill of health".