NEW YORK—The iconic UNICEF snowflake was installed above Fifth Avenue at 57 Street on Sunday, Nov. 3. It’s a heartwarming sight, marking the start of the holiday season. But many may not be aware that this fragile holiday decoration is dedicated to the frail among us—children around the world who are struggling to survive.
The snowflake represents a campaign led by United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), to stop children from dying from preventable causes. Last year, 6.6 million children died before reaching age 5, most to treatable diseases, such as pneumonia, diarrhea, or malaria, according to the UNICEF “2013 Progress Report.” As the number went down by half from 12.6 million in 1990, UNICEF believes it can be reduced to zero.
“Yes, we should celebrate the progress,” said Anthony Lake, UNICEF executive director, in a press release. “But how can we celebrate when there is so much more to do before we reach the goal?”
Some may remember the snowflake as one of the city’s holiday attractions when the snowflake was first put up in 1984. The Stonbely family donated it to UNICEF in 2002. By 2005 UNICEF received a new snowflake, designed by Ingo Maurer and his team in Germany and created with Baccarat crystals. The new snowflake is 23 feet wide and 28 feet tall, sporting 16,000 crystal prisms. It is the largest outdoor chandelier in the world.
The original snowflake was 17 feet wide and 14 feet tall, and had 12,000 crystals. It was designed by Douglas Leigh, the creator of the colored lighting on the Empire State Building. After Leigh’s death in 1999, the snowflake was bequeathed to advertising entrepreneur George Stonbely.
Since 2005, UNICEF has also been hosting its annual Snowflake Ball, a charity event celebrating the lighting up of the snowflake. With a plethora of celebrities in attendance, it has raised over $18 million for UNICEF over the past eight years.
“Just to be a part of it and actually contribute something, anything I can, means a lot to me,” said singer-actress Selena Gomez at the Snowflake Ball in 2012, according to a Zoomin.tv report. Since 2009, She has been a UNICEF ambassador, the youngest to receive the title.
Tickets to the ball on Dec. 3, are still available on the UnicefSnowflake.org website, starting at $2,500 a ticket.