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In Defense of Artificial Christmas Trees

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Christmas Tree & StockingsI’ve never had a real Christmas tree before. I’ve always had artificial trees, the ones made of plastic and wire, and figured that most people did. While I don’t know the statistics but if the number of Christmas tree stores springing up on the side of major roads is any indication, I might actually be in the minority! Either way, I prefer artificial trees and here are five reasons why:

  1. Nothing to chop down, pick up, or dispose of: You don’t need to hop into the car, go to a Christmas tree farm, select one, strap it to your roof, and then drive it home. While that is part of the fun of getting a Christmas tree, that’s also a pain to do. It’s also not as ecofriendly as getting an artificial tree since you’re chopping down a tree and then disposing of it somehow.
  2. It’s cheaper: I picked up our current artificial tree on Craigslist for $20, which sure beats buying a real one each and every year (not including transportation costs.
  3. It’s safer: If our Christmas tree gets too dry, the heat from the lights could cause it to catch fire. It’s a real problem, check out this US. Fire Administration page all about Christmas tree fires.
  4. It’s reusable: I mentioned it earlier as part of the cost but it’s worth repeating because its reusability is one of the reasons why I think it’s so ecofriendly. Certainly plastic and wire are less friendly than actual wood, but you have to chop down a tree (then toss it) to get your real tree when the artificial one only needs to be made once.
  5. It’s non-allergic: Lots of people are allergic to Christmas trees, hardly any are allergic to artificial ones! (unless you count dust)

If you celebrate Christmas, I’m curious, do you prefer real or “fake” Christmas trees? If you prefer the real ones, I’d really like to hear the pluses from someone who has had them and swears by them. I can see the benefits, but not having experienced them I would feel disingenuous trying to list them.

(Photo: scottfeldstein)

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25 Responses to “In Defense of Artificial Christmas Trees”

  1. Jon says:

    I agree Jim. I have a fiber optic tree which is pretty cool. The only thing I miss is the scent of the real tree, but candles can supply that.

  2. Miss M says:

    Real! Sorry I don’t like plastic trees and I think the environmental benefits/drawbacks would be a tie. Plastic trees eventually will be disposed of and they don’t naturally degrade, the real ones can be sustainably grown, harvested and recycled. I love the smell of real trees and picking one is half the fun. I don’t put many lights and I don’t leave them on for long, I check the water every couple of days to make sure it doesn’t dry out. I have no interest in artificial trees.

  3. I haven’t had a tree, real or artificial, in years only because it’s just me and my wife and we’re pretty lazy about that type of thing. She loves real trees but hates decorating them. I ike them for their scent but I can always buy a candle or a wreath, I guess.

    I like going to other people’s houses to see them all nicely decorated and spruced [sic] up. That way I don’t have to unpack and re-pack all the paraphernalia.

  4. Sheila says:

    I prefer real Christmas trees, but admit that I only have a fake one up. (I have my reasons, which I won’t bore you with in this comment. :) ) I do have real Christmas wreaths, though.

    The reason I prefer real is that they smell so wonderful. I grew up in the Christmas tree capital of the South. A common bumper sticker that I see on Christmas tree growers pickup trucks around my hometown is “Real Trees Make Scents”. Yes, yes they do. :)

    Mele Kalikimaka (Merry Christmas)!

  5. You can’t beat the smell! And I say that as someone who grew up with real trees, but who has had a fake tree for the past few years for safety reasons (i.e., young kids). I’m hoping that next year, the kids will be old enough for a real tree – by which I mean I don’t have to worry about them yanking off ornaments, pulling the tree down, etc.

    It’s definitely a lot more effort (and money) but I just love the fresh pine smell. Scent is strongly tied to memory, and the pine tree scent just brings back all of my childhood Christmas memories and really makes me feel like it’s Christmas.

  6. Nate says:

    It is all about the nostalgia of it really. I think if you look at it logically and lay out pluses and minuses artificial will win out. If you put it on feelings and experiences the artificial doesn’t stand a chance. Packing the car up with the kids to go get the tree is part of the fun, the smell, the chainsaw, the dead needles, the getting rid of it, etc. All part of the process and joy(pain) of a live Christmas tree that builds longer lasting memories. Putting up a fake tree doesn’t build many long term memories for the kids. I remember putting ornaments on a fake tree growing up but that is it. I know my kids will remember our many adventures along with putting up the ornaments.

    I have many times tried to convince my wife the logic you laid out but I am glad she convinced me to not look at it logically. Sometimes things aren’t as simple as plus and minus.

  7. Glenn Lasher says:

    We use one in our household and are very happy with it.

  8. Geoff says:

    I have a fake tree only because we can’t have a real one (apartment management doesn’t allow them). But beyond the actual process, which I consider a benefit, I say real for other reasons.

    For fires, you should use LED lights, they cost less to operate and they are cold to the touch.

    Environmentally wise, the problems from plastics far outweigh cutting down and disposing of a real tree, which ultimately doesn’t really hurt anyone. Plastic though is terrible (if you want more info, look up information on the island of plastic in the pacific ocean).

    Fake trees often look stupid. My in-laws have a fake tree and it is a perfect narrow triangle and is ugly. I think natural trees have more depth to them.

  9. CK says:

    Real all the way.

  10. TStrump says:

    Had a real tree in my condo once and that was enough!
    I was cleaning pine needles for weeks.
    The smell is nice, though.

  11. Kimberly says:

    We almost always had a fake tree when I was growing up. I hated the darn thing. It was too “perfect” and the metal needles were really pokey. We lived in Florida, so we didn’t have the opportunity to go tree hunting.

    The one big thing that I like about artificial, and the reason why I have one now as an adult even though I always BEGGED for a real tree as a kid, is that it lasts longer. I like to put up my tree right after Thanksgiving and leave it up til New Years Day (at least). I don’t think real trees last that long, unless you buy the kind in the bucket, but I have no where to plant that afterward.

  12. Brad says:

    I love your work, but you’re wrong on this one — there is nothing eco-friendly about a fake tree as opposed to a real one. Live Christmas trees come almost exclusively from tree farms, where a tree is planted for each cut. So it’s carbon neutral, except for the gas needed in transport.

    Your artificial tree has a transport factor as well, only it’s coming to your living room via China with 99% certainty. It’s also likely to outlast you and your great-grandchildren in the landfill it eventually occupies. Energy is also consumed (and byproducts produced) in the manufacturing of the fake tree, whereas a live one benefits the environment at every stage of its growth — and even after its “consumption”

    Again, I don’t consider myself the most green person in the world, but claiming it’s environmentally friendly is one of the lazy and insincere justifications people give for having fake trees. In personal finance parlance, it’s like someone justifying their $4/day latte habit by saying, “hey, I’m helping out the local economy.” Yeah, that’s why you do it.

    • jim says:

      @Brad: I don’t think that’s accurate saying a $4/day latte habit and stimulating the economy is anything like buying an artificial tree. I can keep the tree that I have for many many years, transporting it once from China and having it manufactured once. The tree can easily last ten years (if not 15 or 20). To say a real tree is carbon neutral seems a bit dishonest, the tree requires resources to be grown and transported, which are not inconsequential costs. I understand that real trees can be recycled and that they will biodegrade, whereas artificial trees will likely never degrade, but real trees aren’t necessarily the winner either.

      How about this scenario though, we bought our artificial tree used off Craigslist. We in essence rescued a fake tree from the landfill, does that make it greener than buying a live tree? I’m not trying to race towards some ecofriendly finish line or try to be the most ecofriendly person in the world, but I think we should get some credit for a used artificial tree?

  13. Dave says:

    Fake trees rule – I got one last year and I will never go back to real trees. Mine is prelit, so I litterally pull it out of the box, fluff it up, and voila, christmas time!!

    I remember growing up and spending all day driving to the tree farm, cutting it down, bringing it home, mashing it into the stand, putting it up – then untangling 10 strands of lights, figuring out which work and which don’t and putting them on. I’m tired just typing that.

    I also like that it is symetrical – I remember always having to figure out what side looked worst, so it could be stuck in the corner. Not a problem with a fake tree – all sides are equally beautiful!

  14. Brad says:

    I suppose you can get some credit for a used artificial tree, but only for delaying it’s inevitable eternity in a landfill for another 10 years or so. In this case you can certainly claim that you are only a steward of said tree and not responsible for its origins.

    My point is that artificial trees being eco-friendly is a common misconception. Besides what I listed above, artificial trees are made from PVC, a petroleum-derived plastic. So you’re also using non-renewable resources in the tree itself. And as such, it isn’t the sort of plastic that can be recycled or that biodegrades with ease — eternity in a landfill, in this case, isn’t neccesarily hyperbole.

    Artificial trees are also prone to containing lead, also used in the manufacturing process. Some even contain warning labels. Not that China ever ships anything our way that may improperly contain lead. Merry Christmas, kids — don’t touch the tree.

    Hey, I appreciate cheap, truly. It’s why I read your blog. But, real trees are the winner, by the standards of almost every piece of research conducted by any professional or academic study not performed by the artificial tree industry.

  15. Amanda says:

    I’ve always had real, and I think I always will! I love the fresh pine smell of a real tree. I like the authenticity of a real tree – it feels cozier somehow. Also, as Brad mentioned, getting a real tree is not non-eco-friendly.

  16. Amanda says:

    We always had a fake tree growing up because my dad is one of the allergic ones, but my grandparents had a real one so we got to see/smell that one. When my sister got married, my brother in law convinced my dad for a few years to get a real tree. Then came the year that dad had to sleep in the living room with the tree, with his allergies. Needless (or would that be needles to say?) that was the end of the real tree at my folks’ house!

  17. Aman says:

    Fake is better if your looking for a better value in my opinion.

    With proper care and storage, those fake trees can last many many years without need for replacement.

    Real trees obviously need energy for cultivation, energy for transportation and energy (water) to prolong its life in the home and prevent dryness (fire hazard). I know plastic trees are made with chemicals but the thing is, its only once compared to a yearly cycle.

  18. Traciatim says:

    Sure, if you count an abomination of a tree-like-cone douced with toxic chemicals all over it, processed from oil, build in a slave labour camp, and shipped half way around the planet as ‘better’ then yes, a fake tree is the way to go.

    If you prefer a sustainable local resource, that’s bio-degradable, and safe then real is the way to go.

  19. In my relatively short lifetime, I’ve had both real and fake trees. Growing up, we had a two-story living room that my father loved to fill with two-story trees from our yard! For many years after that, though, we had a fake tree that didn’t survive the last time my mother moved house.

    I don’t have a strong opinion either way – some people have allergies, so a fake tree is better for them. I prefer real trees, since they encourage people to grow trees and you can recycle them when they’re done. That’s the greenie in me!

  20. Peter says:

    I prefer the look and smell of a real pine tree, but we’ve had our fake christmas tree for years now. It really doesn’t look that bad, it’s cheaper and more eco-friendly as you mentioned.

    As far as missing the smell, this year we found some scented pine tree plugins at bath and body works that smell exactly like a real tree. We plugged those in and its more like having the real thing now!

  21. Matt says:

    Fake.

    I fall into the “allergic” category, so it’s not really a choice. Ironically, my wife and I have yet to buy a tree, since we’ve always ended up celebrating Christmas with family in Michigan, so we didn’t see much point.

    As my grandmother just died last night, it’s looking like that tradition may not continue past this year. So it’s likely we’ll pick up a dirt-cheap artificial tree right after xmas, and use it starting next year when we host our OWN Christmas party.

  22. George says:

    I’m also a fan of artificial Christmas trees even though I graduated from a forestry school.

  23. danisaacs says:

    Artificial. There just isn’t even a debate. No mess. No headache. I put the lights on mine 6 years ago, and haven’t had to do it since. How much time is spent locating, transporting, lighting, watering, sweeping up needles for murdered trees?

  24. AJ Kumar says:

    I would have originally gone with the real tree because I love the smell of a real tree. I was recently introduced to candles that have the same smell. Now you can have the fake tree with the real smell. Life is good.


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