NEW YORK (AP) _ The bright lights of Christmas brought together some 50,000 spectators huddling in bitter cold for the 57th annual tree-lighting ceremony at Rockefeller Center.

''I love New York in the holidays,'' said Pat Polkowske, 31, of Hanau, West Germany, who spent the day window shopping with her two daughters, Leah, 7, and Wesle, 8. ''There's a real special feeling in the Christmas season.''

The crowd, pressing a little closer together than usual in the 26-degree chill early Monday evening, gasped as the 20,000 lights on the 70-foot tall Norway spruce burst into a kaleidoscope of color at the push of a button from David Rockefeller and youngsters in a truancy prevention program.

The crowd roared, oohed, and aahed while the Choral Society of the Hamptons joined in with ''Joy to the World.''

''It's fun that everyone came together for this one day,'' said Nicola Tuseo, 21, of Bayside, Queens, adding that past tree-lightings she watched on television don't hold a candle to the real thing.

The wintry weather, which with the wind chill felt more like 15 degrees, didn't dampen the crowd's spirits, some of whom serenaded police with Christmas carols.

Over the past two weeks, workers festooned the tree from Montebello, N.Y., with five miles of wire.

In a holiday blessing before the lighting, the Rev. Calvin Butts of the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem said the lights on the tree symbolized thousands of voices seeking freedom in the cities of Eastern Europe and in the jail cells of South Africa. Butts reminded the crowd ''to remember those children for whom there are no gifts.''

Judit Somogyi, 19, of Budapest, Hungary, was in New York visiting friends.

''We can celebrate Christmas and religion more in Hungary now,'' because of growing political freedom in Eastern Europe, she said through an interpreter.

''But I really like Snoopy and how New York does Christmas,'' she said.