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Which is Better – Real or Fake Christmas Tree?

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christmas_tree.jpgThis morning I took out my trash and noticed several Christmas trees on the side of the road next to the neighbor’s trash cans. There weren’t a lot of them, which leads me to believe that either most people use fake trees nowadays, or some people are waiting until next week to throw them out.

My wife and I have a fake tree, as do both of our parents and most of our family. But this made me wonder; which is better, a real or fake Christmas tree? Obviously there are a few pros and cons to each.

The Cost

  • Fake trees – Fake trees can cost anywhere from $50-100, but often you can find great post holiday savings at department stores or even on-line stores such as this prelit tree from Amazon.
  • Real trees - The price of real trees is a very wide range -usually anywhere from $25-75. Several factors in tree prices include your location and how close to Christmas you buy. When I was a kid, my family lived in the country and we often found and cut down our own tree. The only cost was a weekend outing with my father and brothers and a little labor. But if you live in a suburban area or city, this option is usually not available.

The Environment

  • Fake trees – With care, most fake trees can last around 10 years or more, which is much better than throwing away a tree every year. However, many fake trees are not recyclable, which is a problem. At least real trees will eventually degrade into nothing. Plastic and metal are not biodegradable.
  • Real trees – It seems a waste to me to cut down a tree only to keep it in your house for 2 or 3 weeks and then throwing it away after the holidays. However, if a tree is grown in a sustainable forest or is replaced with a new seedling when it is cut down, it is not a total loss. The big issue though, is when there is no place to recycle the trees or chop them into mulch and they end up in landfills.

The Emotional Factor

  • Fake trees – It’s always exciting bringing out the Christmas tree and decorations to herald in the start of the holiday season. My wife and I put up our tree the weekend after Thanksgiving. We will take it down the weekend after the New Year, unless we want to keep the holiday spirit longer. Fake trees allow you to celebrate the holiday at your own pace, not by nature’s pace. Dead trees are not very romantic!
  • Real trees – I have fond memories of hiking into the woods with my father and brothers, finding the perfect tree, chopping it down, and dragging it back home. We lived adjacent to a large forest at the time, and it was the perfect place to do this. For others, going to the Christmas tree lot and selecting a real tree together as a family is a time honored tradition. And you can’t forget about the smell of pine needles; a real tree just smells like Christmas!

The Convenience

  • Fake trees – Fake trees can put up and taken down at your convenience, not based on other factors such as buying and transporting a tree, the weather, or trash day. You also you don’t have to worry about fake trees dying. My wife deployed to the Middle East when she was in the military and missed Christmas. She returned home in the middle of January, and we had Christmas under our tree. There is no way I would have been able to find a real tree in January, and had I bought one when they were still available, it would have died by the time she returned. The other convenience is that some fake trees come with built in lights. This makes it much easier and cheaper to decorate your tree.
  • Real trees – There is a delicate balance when deciding when to buy a real tree. If you put it up the weekend after Thanksgiving, it may not last until Christmas. Wait too long and you get a scrawny, ugly tree. No matter when you buy your tree, loose pine needles usually end up everywhere! It can also be a pain to find the time to select a tree, then transport it if you do not have the right kind of vehicle for the job.

Which type of Christmas tree do you prefer? There is no right or wrong answer to this question, and I think there are a hundred other influencing factors I neglected to mention. My wife and I have a fake tree mostly for the convenience factors that I mentioned above. But your favorite type of Christmas tree is a personal decision. Feel free to leave a comment and share which type of tree you prefer and why.

Update: I just found a Mt. Dew Can Christmas tree, which is the ultimate in recycling (article courtesy of Mr. Will Chen, Wise Bread). ;)

Photo Credit – barrym67.


Published or updated December 31, 2007.
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{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Traciatim

We used a fake tree when we lived in an apartment building that had banned real trees. This year we moved to a house and it’s real all the way.

Fake trees are made out of petroleum products, they are shipped half way around the planet, and probably won’t last 10 years (their little fake needles fall off too). Ours we used for two years, by the look of it you would probably get another three out of it. The fake one was 200 bucks, we sold it for 30. At 200 bucks for 5 years that’s still 40 bucks a year… guess what we paid for an AWESOME 7.5′ really full round REAL tree? 40 bucks.

The smell… guess what, your fake spray smells NOTHING like a real tree. There is no faking the smells of Christmas.

Trees are grown on farms that are sold on lots. Just like pumpkins, or corn. It’s not like there is some guy clear cutting forests to make your living room look nice. Trees help the environment the most when they are growing, which is usually the first few years. They are grown usually locally. They can be mulched and put anywhere like in your garden or lawn…. just mix it in with your top soil your putting down. In a land fill it will just decompose like any normal natural item. If your concerned about putting oranges in land fills, then be concerned about your tree.

So I say if you like Asian slave labour, love oil companies, and hate the earth… then fake trees all around! Enjoy your plastic monstrosity.

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2 Lily @ The Honest Dollar

My boyfriend and I live in a tiny studio apartment, so neither a real tree nor a fake tree. We have a desktop light-up crystal tree. It’s kind of cheesy (changes colors), but it’s perfect for us.

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3 Nancy

Last year I decided to buy a very reasonably priced fake tree on sale after Christmas. I put it up this year, but could not work up any enthusiasm for it. In fact, I didn’t even decorate it until the day before Christmas. Reading your article helped me make a decision about next year’s tree. This fake one (which very obviously looks fake)will be set up out in the Florida room and I’m going to purchase a living tree, as in a pot not a real one which is in the process of dying when purchased. If properly cared for this tree will bless us for years to come. When it’s too large to be maintained in a pot, it will be planted in our yard.

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4 Eden

I definitely prefer a fake tree. We bought a nice one- it was about $200 on sale. It looks incredible and it takes less than 5 minutes to take out of the box and set up (not including decorating of course). That is a huge time saver every year.

You can’t beat the smell of a real tree, but I always found the mess of the real tree and the bother of dragging it home and then out to be recycled was not something I did not enjoy doing with my holiday season.

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5 Ryan

Traciatim, I knew there would be some passionate responses! I bought my fake tree used for $20. I expect it to last a few more years. The total cost for me so far is $10 a year, and it will only go down from there. I think using it is much better than letting it go into a landfill.

Fake tree smell…. it’s just like fake new car smell. Awful!

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6 Ryan

Nancy, I have never even thought about using a living tree in a pot. I think that could possibly be a better solution – especially if you don’t mind leaving it in place most of the year. You would have to be careful of the dirt, but I’m sure it would be a very nice addition to the house. :)

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7 Lynnae @ beingfrugal.net

I like both for different reasons. We live in Oregon, where pine trees are grown in abundance. Traciatim is right….most are grown on tree farms and are replaced every year, though you can get a permit to cut one down from certain areas in the forest. We paid $20 to cut our own down in a lot.

I love real trees because of the smell, and because it’s reminiscent of Christmas growing up, as we always had a real tree. After Christmas the transfer station mulches the Christmas trees.

Last year we bought a fake tree, though, because my husband’s hand was in a cast, and I needed to do the whole tree thing by myself. I loved the fact that we could put it up early, there were no pine needles to vacuum up, and I didn’t have to worry about burning the house down. We used our fake tree again this year, and the kids didn’t seem to mind.

So, I don’t really have a preference at this point. I like both. :)

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8 Don J

My family has never done Christmas with a fake tree, although I have taken part in Christmas activities with girlfriends whose families have had them.

I am 100% pro-fake tree. In addition to some of the points mentioned above, there is the water issue. To make a live tree last, you have to water it, and sometimes it needs a LOT of water. If your tree stand isn’t perfect, you might also end up with some water on the floor. I have had that problem three years running now (yes, I know it is time for a new tree stand).

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9 Leah S

My in-laws also use potted Christmas trees. Their front yard has about 20 former Christmas trees growing. Gives you the real tree feel, but doesn’t end up being a waste once the holidays are over.

My husband and I don’t bother with a tree in our apartment, but I’m thinking someday I’ll make a quilt of a Christmas tree and hang it on the wall. Leave loops to hook ornaments or even lights and it’s a pretty good tree, considering! Don’t have to worry about cats climbing up it either. ;)

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10 wealthy_1

When my daughter was born, we live in a single-family home in the Midwest. So for the first couple of years we bought a bulbed tree and my husband would plant it outside after Christmas. When we moved back East, we lived in a condo. We thought an artificial tree would be safer. As it turns out we’ve had our tree for 19 years! It’s been great to watch the tree fill with ornaments as our children have grown. The one thing I like about the fake tree is that it can be donated. That’s what we plan to do after next year. My son will be graduating from high school, and my husband and I plan to begin the downsizing process. So we will donate our large fake tree and downsize to a tabletop fake tree.

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11 Mrs. Micah

We went with no tree, since we weren’t having Christmas at our house. Worked nicely…though next year we may try putting up a few lights.

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12 Mark @ TheLocoMono

I like that idea of a living tree in a pot. When I first read your article,

I immediately thought of planting a couple trees in the backyard, stagger the planting every couple years and then cut down one that is the perfect size.

I realize that is a problem for many of us who do not have a yard or even a pot to plant in. The living tree does seem to provide a solution to that until the purchase of a home.

I too spent the years of my youth stomping the hillz in search of the perfect tree while freezing my err, head off and enjoyed every moment of it.

I like the fiber optics trees but I guess in the end, depending on where I finally get a casa to buy, it may be a tree or a catcus or even a palm tree. I rather be able to plant a tree and use it for my own tree.

Great post.

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13 Ryan

Leah S, I think the Christmas tree quilt is an awesome idea. It is unique, and a tradition in itself. Your in-laws also have a unique tradition of their own. I think that is a wonderful way to help the environment and enjoy Christmas traditions. Thanks for sharing! :)

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14 Ryan

Don J, I agree, the convenience and ease of using a fake tree make it the choice for many people. But as others have pointed out, there are some negatives. As for the water, I would recommend placing a tarp under the tree stand and tree skirt. That should protect your flooring.

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15 FourPillars

We like to have a real tree. It is a bit more work than a fake tree but we do it anyways.

We don’t do much in the way of presents so the hassle of a real tree is quite manageable.

Mike

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16 David

I gotta go with the real tree – better for you, better for the environment. Those plastic trees have so many chemicals in them they are practically a mini toxic waste site.

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17 rocketc

We purchased a 24″ artificial tree from

Walmart this year. Long story, 6 bucks, and no fun. I feel like Charlie Brown.

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18 Ryan

I appreciate the comments, everyone! I’ve got a new point of view on Christmas trees now! In my opinion, there is no one size fits all for everyone, and to be honest, I like both of real and fake trees. The spirit of the season is what is important to me. For my current situation, fake trees are better. But I wouldn’t be opposed to going back to a real tree, or even better – a live tree as was mentioned in the comments. My wife and I don’t have a yard to place a live tree in the spring/summer months, so that may not be a good option now. In the future we want a yard to grow vegetables, and may even go with a live tree we can plant after it outgrows normal Christmas tree size.

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19 Brip Blap

I’m with wealthy_1. I have a THIRD generation fake tree. It’s my grandparents’ tree – they gave it to my parents and when my wife and I bought our house a few years ago they gave it to us. Any concerns about recycling/etc. are minimal – we pack it carefully, treat it gently and I have NO doubt that we will pass it on to my son or daughter one day. Just be gentle with it – they’ll last forever. For the smell? We go buy a few clipping branches from the local “real” tree place – a huge bunch for a dollar. We put a few here and there in vases and voila, “Christmas smell.” I love my fake tree. It looks beautiful – we decorate with only white and gold and silver ornaments and lights, and it looks great. On top of everything else, it’s not a fire hazard like a dried out real tree.

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20 Ryan

Steve (Brip Blap), my fake tree is used also. I think it will last a long time as well. I love the idea of getting branch clippings to accent your home. I never thought of that, but I think my wife and I may have to try that next year! Thanks for the idea. :)

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