Christmas in Rockefeller Center” marks the start official start of the holiday season for much of the country, and Wednesday, November 28, the chilly New York City winds didn’t chill the mood for hosts, Al Roker, Hoda Kotb, Savannah Guthrie, and Craig Melvin who were as bundled up as can be but looking fabulous for the 2018 evening. Al Roker recalls his first “Christmas in Rockefeller Center” as an affiliate anchor back in 1983. The holiday soirée soon got picked up for a full hour over a short segment, and then went national.

For the many viewers who can never manage the journey to see the majestic evergreen marker of Christmas standing in Rockefeller Plaza, the annual television special allows a mental and emotional journey to the Big Apple at the most celebratory time of the year.

Musical greats were there to welcome the twinkling 50,000 lights and the brand-new tree-topper, a mere 9-foot 4-inch creation, donned with three million Swarovski crystals. The spirit was high, and while some of the superstars missed a step or two, others came through with enough enthusiasm to guide Santa’s sleigh and send everyone home smiling.

Legend and not-so-legendary performances

John Legend opened the night with Stevie Wonder's “That's What Christmas Means to Me” and the composer, singer, actor, and producer returned later for “I'll Be Home for Christmas.” Legend was pulling a double shift, so to speak, with his own Christmas special, “A Legendary Christmas,” with his wife, Chrissy Teigen, and a good section of their families, following the Rockefeller Center stint.

The songs were satisfying enough, but nothing truly spirited. Legend could have done these in his sleep. His second offering was more heartfelt.

A cappella group, Pentatonix, gets plenty of attention every Christmas, especially with the new album, “Christmas is Here.” It's hard to tell whether fans love the looks or the luscious vocal ability of the foursome more.

With each member sporting different styles, they performed “It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas,” and later, “Rockin’ around the Christmas Tree.”

Any time singing legend Tony Bennett takes the stage, fans are in for a worthy experience. Vocally, 92-year-old Bennett is still superb, and jazz pianist/singer Diana Krall is amazing in her genre.

Together, though, this duo seemed completely out of sync and unrehearsed. Their handoffs on “I'll Be Home for Christmas“ were painfully uncomfortable, and only slightly better on “The Christmas Song.” They stepped all over each other's segues within songs. It's impossible to make Tony Bennett look bad, but this pairing was in desperate need of more run-throughs. These performers are forever stars, but on this national stage, there was no chemistry. The moments made any fan long for Tony Bennett with Lady Gaga.

No Rockefeller Center performance would be complete without the Radio City Music Hall Rockettes, and they added their ever-present sparkle, along with the New York City Ballet dance from “The Nutcracker.”

The country crew and Motown queen bring the spirit

There was no lack of spirit in Kellie Pickler.

The North Carolina country girl who became a finalist in Season 5 of “American Idol,” and soon had hits of her own did a playfully exquisite rendition of “Santa Baby” that had everyone in the crowd singing along, without a thought for the cold. Pickler is also pleasing crowds with her Hallmark Channel movie, “Christmas at Graceland,” and just before the tree-lighting, she brought a Christmas spirit revival with the soulful “Joy to the World” rendition from the film. Backed by a gospel choir, Kellie proved that she is still a powerhouse singer.

Martina McBride is certainly a country singer to be reckoned with, and she brought her own touch of soul, capturing much of the same feel of her “Everlasting” album.

She offered “Winter Wonderland” and “Happy Holidays” from her new Christmas album, and definitely displayed holiday spirit, despite the temperatures and diverting from her current holiday tour.

Another country star who knows how to capture the essence of a Sinatra vibe in his Christmas selections is Brett Eldredge, who broke into Country Music with the tender ballad, “Raymond.” Eldredge found perfect spirit and perfect romantic pitch in his songs, “Sleigh Ride” and “Glow,” the title track from his new album. It's no wonder that this crowd-pleaser is also on his own Christmas tour. He performed at “Christmas in Rockefeller Center” last year, and he's sure to be invited back again.

Laying aside her history and an unparalleled roster of hits, Diana Ross earned the undying respect of millions for her drenched 1983 performance in Central Park, when she pressed on without missing a note.

There were no downpours at this Christmas in Rockefeller Plaza, but there were blustery winds and, at age 74, Ms. Ross sang with what certainly seemed like real joy through selections of her Christmas album, “Wonderful Christmas Time,” including the Paul McCartney title track. She was decked in red and blue, with her heart on her sleeve. Even her gushing wishes of “Merry Christmas” to the enthusiastic crowd seemed purely genuine.

On those blissful notes of song and spirit, the tall spruce glistened, and hearts joined at home and on the Plaza in harmony at the close of 2018’s “Christmas in Rockefeller Center.”