The Christmas tree lighting ceremony at Rockefeller Center, 1996
New York Daily News Archive / Getty Images
December 3, 2014 6:45 PM EST

It’s easy to be snarky or cynical about holiday schmaltz like the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree, which will be lit in a ceremony on Wednesday night. But, as TIME’s Richard Corliss pointed out in an essay that appeared in the magazine 20 years ago this month, it’s also easy to get swept away.

That’s because the holiday festivities represent a way to pretend the world is a little bit, well, easier:

The big Christmas tree — like window shopping and productions of The Nutcracker — is a symbol of that fantasy.

Read the full essay here, in the TIME Vault: I Like New York in Yule

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Write to Lily Rothman at lily.rothman@time.com.

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