How to Decide Between a Real or Artificial Christmas Tree

The great debate is upon many of us—what kind of Christmas tree to buy this year!

That is certainly the current argument that’s headed down to the wire at Deb’s house, where she and her husband Ron are at each other’s throats. Deb, ever the penny pincher, wants to buy an artificial tree and then re-use it for many years to come. Ron, however, prefers the real route, citing authenticity and that fresh evergreen scent.

So, how do you know which type to buy? There are many practical reasons for each.

  • When it comes to authenticity, well, the real tree more or less wins by definition. How can it not? It’s real. It grew from the ground and has real wood and pine and sap. It looks like a tree. It smells like a tree. It feels like a tree. Ron can even attest that during one lonely drunken night, it tastes like a tree.
  • If you’re going strictly for the better looking tree, the advantage likely goes to artificial. To find a beautiful real tree, you kinda just have to get lucky and hope the branches all settle in just the right manner. An expensive artificial tree was specifically built to be full, symmetrical, and pretty much perfect.
  • If you’re concerned with a one-time cost, then a real tree is cheaper, unless you find a used fake one for sale on Craigslist.
  • However, if you’re looking ahead to the future, an artificial tree will pay for itself many times over if it holds up for a dozen or more years.
  • If you’re short on storage space, then a real tree probably wins since it is simply discarded after Christmas. A fake tree has to have somewhere to go for the rest of the year, like the attic, garage, basement, or storage unit.
  • When it comes to messes, the artificial tree wins hands-down. A real tree will shed needles everywhere, especially the older it gets.
  • If you consider yourself a “green” person and care deeply about the environment, then perhaps you’re opposed to the idea of cutting down a perfectly nice tree just to display it in your house for a month. Artificial trees, while often made using non-biodegradable plastics, at least won’t mean killing a tree.
  • Recycling may be a reason to consider a real tree. The trees are often ground up and used for mulch afterwards, returning to the earth. Artificial trees, again, are not going to decompose naturally.
  • If your water bill is already outrageous, then you’ll want to opt for artificial. Real trees require frequent watering so they don’t, you know, burst into flames. Watering a fake tree is not necessary.
  • If you want to support the US economy, get a real tree. They were likely grown in the US. Artificial trees mostly come from China.
  • If you can’t bear the thought of your tree going up in flames, artificial trees have a slight edge. A seldom-watered real tree will go up in flames and continue to burn for a long time. Artificial trees can burn, too, of course.
  • The manner in which you retrieve the tree, for nostalgic or sentimental or traditional reasons, tips the scale in favor of the real tree. Picking a tree out of a lot, or even cutting it down yourself makes for a better story than retrieving and unpacking a dusty cardboard box from your attic.
  • An artificial tree can inspire some feelings of nostalgia, too, however. You’re setting up the same tree year after year, after all. This was the same tree your kids used and now they’re all grown up and their kids are celebrating around it too! Aren’t you just getting all teary-eyed thinking of those memories?
  • Bringing a real tree into the house can also mean accidentally bringing in a bird, bug, or other woodland critter who made that tree their home.
  • Other minor factors can play a role in choosing the tree for you, including:
    • Purchasing one or the other to spite someone.
    • Determining which one has more room underneath for gifts.
    • Determining which one’s branches can support heavy ornaments.
    • Copying what someone from a movie or TV show used for their tree.
    • Which one is less likely to tip over.
    • Which one is less likely to cause your dog or cat to pee on it.
    • One-upping a neighbor, family member, or friend’s tree.
    • Supporting a friend’s tree farm.

In the end, there are countless pros and cons towards choosing one kind of Christmas tree over the other. If an agreement truly can’t be reached, you could consider an alternative, like a tree made of stacked pop cans, a tree image projected onto your wall, or a Seinfeld-inspired Festivus pole.

In Deb and Ron’s case, they wound up getting a real tree because deep down they knew their marriage would never last and an artificial tree was just one more thing to figure out who got what when Ron moved out in the spring.

My Hot Take:
I prefer artificial trees to cut down on costs and messes, though I do understand that 500 years from now that tree will still be sitting in a landfill somewhere. But then again, isn’t that the greatest gift of all? Centuries after my great-grandchildren have passed, that tree will still exist, calling out to future Earth inhabitants of our jolly Christmases of yore?

Get a real tree if you don’t like landfill and want a lower one-time cost. Get a fake tree if you want a pristine looking tree that can be re-used year after year and hate cleaning up pine needles.

Christmas Essentials for the Home


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