The Perennial Debate: Real versus Artificial Christmas Trees

Should I Get a Real or Artificial Christmas Tree? The Perennial Debate

As an advocate of the environment, you’d think I would object to a big, green, and glowing plastic thing in the corner of my living room every year around Christmas. But from a practical standpoint, I’m a big fan of artificial Christmas Trees!

Should I Get a Real or Artificial Christmas Tree? The Perennial Debate
Is an artificial Christmas tree really that big of an affront to the holiday season? We don’t think so.

But when you compare the impact of getting a real Christmas tree or an artificial one, I do concede that there’s something tangible about the allure of a real tree, especially when I consider my nostalgia for the pine tree-filled forests of my youth in the Northeast US.

But since there may be a few stragglers out there who have yet to put up a tree, let’s weigh our Christmas tree options!

Round One: Environmental Impact

Real Christmas Trees are widely regarded to be kinder to Mother Earth than their plastic counterparts. When you factor in the artificial varieties made from PVC and metal and the fact they are typically made in China, which gives them a huge carbon footprint. In addition, unlike the natural Christmas Trees of the 19th and early 20th centuries, the vast majority of trees are now harvested from tree farms, thereby reducing forest conservation concerns.

One point in favor of artificial trees that goes largely unstated is the heavy use of pesticides in Christmas Tree farming. Not only does this spill over into the surrounding environment, it also stays with the tree as you bring it home.

All things considered, real Christmas Trees win this category.

Round Two: Ease of Use

Hands down, I  give this one to the artificial Christmas Tree. At the beginning of the season all we have to do is bring down 3 sections of pre-lit tree from the attic, stack it, plug it in, and decorate it. During its month of use, you simply sit back, relax, and enjoy its beauty. At the end of the season, simply disassemble, put it back in its bag, and put it in the attic. Easy peasy.

Real Christmas Trees, on the other hand, require that you visit a tree farm, a tree retailer, or a visit to a forest with an axe in hand (yeah, that part does sound fun, but make sure you get the proper permit before doing so), and then strap it to your car so that you can haul it into your house, littering your floor with needles and sap. (Tip: VO5 aerosol hairspray worked miracles for me when trying to get pine tree sap off of my skin and hair as a kid).

Should I Get a Real or Artificial Christmas Tree? The Perennial Debate
Do you really want to clean up this mess every January?

During the season, you have to make sure that it remains watered, and as the season moves forward, you have to clean up the needles as they begin to fall. When the tree has run its course, you have to drag it outside (all while it’s littering debris all over your home), set it in your yard, and wait for the disposal folks to come on the designated days for tree collection.

Decoration is a bit easier with an artificial tree. Unlike the real variety, the branches of an artificial tree are malleable, so if you want an ornament to sit neatly in one spot versus another, simply bend a branch to where you want it. This round goes to the artificial.

Round Three: Bugs

Artificial Christmas Trees may have the occasional spider that finds its way in there while being stored in your attic or garage, but the real variety can be crawling with a range of six- and eight-legged critters. I think you know who wins this round.

Round 4: End of Use

While the end-of-season considerations may seem to weigh heavily in favor of the artificial trees, consider the real impacts. It’s said the average lifespan of an artificial Christmas Tree is 6 years, though in my experience, it is a bit longer than that. This fact gives the artificial trees a slight edge when it comes to the issue of annual disposal. But at the end of its useful life, the entire tree (which is NOT green to begin with) ends up in a landfill – unless you go the several extra miles to salvage the metal trunk and take it to a scrap facility

Real trees, on the other hand, can easily find a second life as mulch, wood chips, and more when properly recycled. If you have a few acres of wooded property, you can even place the expired tree outside to let nature reduce it to raw materials, all the while harvesting some wood for the fireplace or a woodworking project. Real trees win this category hands down.

Round Five: Tradition

Should I Get a Real or Artificial Christmas Tree? The Perennial Debate
“It’s beginning to look a lot like an LL Bean catalog … I mean Christmas!”

This one goes to the real trees without any debate necessary. The only tradition you can extract from an artificial tree is in the decorating process, where as families can build generations of tradition around finding the right real tree, bringing it home, and decorating it. [Editor’s Note: Speaking from years of personal experience, this is the only argument in favor of a real tree that resonates with me.] Each year, your family’s tree will be distinct and memorable, where as the artificial tree will remain static and indistinct, sans any new decorations you may choose to add.

And the Winner is…

Do I Get a Real or Artificial Christmas Tree? The Perennial Debate
No matter which type of Christmas tree you choose, we hope you enjoy a wonderful holiday season with your friends and family!

While I appreciate the elegance of biodiversity and love greenery in my world, I simply do not wish to experience all of nature’s critter-filled glory in my living room for an entire month. And given that my home contains an active four-year-old and two dogs that shed like it’s their job, I can do without the extra cleanup involved in having a real Christmas Tree. The winner for my family: the artificial Christmas Tree.

On the whole, I have to be diplomatic and declare there is no clear winner. You need to decide which version better suited for your family.

Have a fantastic Holiday Season!

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