Christmas Tree Throwdown: Real Versus Artificial

Every year we put up our Christmas tree.

The same Christmas tree, an artificial tree.

Every year, I feel a twinge that maybe I’ve made the wrong choice, too. While we use an artificial tree each year, I have a deep and abiding longing to set a real tree up in our living room. That hasn’t always been practical, though.

I grew up with real trees at my Mom’s and my paternal grandparent’s houses and an artificial tree at my Dad’s and my maternal grandparent’s houses.

I had a serious preference for real Christmas trees. While I enjoyed my parents’ trees through much of my 20s and early 30s,  I made a conscious decision to buy them each year and set them up when I bought my house in 2002. I enjoyed the fresh scent, put up with the shedding needles, and went on my merry way spending $50-$65 a year on a moderately sized tree.

The year before Little Bit was born, however, Jon decided that an artificial tree made more sense for us. We’d spend more the first year (I think about $120) but the savings would quickly pay for itself. Plus, he figured that the artificial tree would be safer in years to come with a small child in the house.

This will mark our eighth year with our faux tree. And, while I don’t think it looks like “the real thing”, it makes our Christmases merry and bright. I can’t argue with the price, either. At eight year’s service, the cost breaks down to $15 a year.

So even though I might not have picked our artificial tree, I agree that for us, in this season of life, it was the best choice.

Eventually, though, our tree will start to look shabby. We’ll have to look for a new tree, and we’ll need to make a choice…go with a real Christmas tree or go with another artificial tree.

 

Christmas Tree Throwdown: Real Versus Artificial 

The Real Tree

In this corner, we have the natural tree. It’s green, it smells good, and it’s been used to celebrate the season for centuries. While the most common types in the US are the Fraser Fir and the Douglas Fir, according to a poll taken by About.com. That said, there are about 16 common varieties used to decorate homes for the season.

Real Tree Pros

  • To me, nothing smells or looks as much like Christmas as a real Christmas tree. This is the traditional choice, and Christmas time screams “Tradition.”
  • You can go to a tree farm and select your own fresh tree. Again, for many, this is a much-loved traditional Christmas activity.
  • Buying real trees supports our state economy, as many are grown in the NC mountains.  Most artificial trees are made in China.
  • Real trees are the greener choice. Trees are sustainable and biodegradable, unlike the plastics that form most artificial trees. You can even buy live trees and transplant them after the season.

Real Tree Cons

  • While the trees may not cost much each year, they cost a lot cumulatively. You might pay $50 a year for inexpensively priced trees. That’s $500 over 10 years, the expected life span of an artificial tree.
  • Real trees shed needles, which leads to extra sweeping or vacuuming. You can’t leave them up as long, either.
  • You have to add water regularly to the tree stand, or the tree can dry out and become a fire hazard.
  • Real trees may not fit as easily into their stands, making them unstable.
  • Some people can be allergic to them.
  • Real products can have flaws like bald spots.

The Artificial Tree

On this side, we have the artificial Christmas tree. Buy it once, use it forever…well, for a while anyway. Although artificial trees have existed since the 19th century, brightly colored aluminum trees became popular in the US in the 1950s and 1960’s until A Charlie Brown Christmas made them uncool. Now most artificial trees look far more realistic, and you can find them in around half the homes that put up Christmas trees.

Artificial Tree Pros

  • Artificial trees last for years, making the cost per use even of pricier trees a bargain compared to similar sized real trees. You can get very nice trees for $150 or less, at a lot of different places.
  • Many trees are prelit and come with stands, making set up easy and convenient.
  • You don’t need to maintain artificial trees and can leave them up as long as you like.
  • No bad spots! The trees tend to look full around the entire tree.
  • You can find them in a range of styles, sizes and prices. Want a pink tree? Check. Super skinny? yep. With snow? There’s a tree for that.
  • No worries for allergies.
  • Using the same tree each year means one less decision to make.

Artificial Tree Cons

  • Artificial trees can feel and look fake, and lack that nice piney smell
  • You have to find a place to store your tree each year. If you have limited storage space, that may be a problem.
  • Eventually, your tree will wear out and end up in a landfill. It won’t be biodegradable. Most artificial trees contain PVC and other harmful chemicals.
  • Most artificial trees are imported. 
  • There are some crazy-expensive trees out there. If you’re looking into buying a $1000 tree because it looks less artificial, you better just buy a real one.

Throwdown: Which do you choose?

So what’s the best choice? Real or artificial?

Real trees are more traditional, better for the American economy and the environment. 

Artificial trees come out ahead on a cost per use basis and take less effort to maintain, aside from the storage issue.

Either can be lovely as the focal point of your Christmas traditions.

So are you ready to be part of the throwdown? Do you choose a real tree or an artificial tree? Why is it your choice? Would you consider moving to the other side? Or are you happy to go without a tree?

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34 thoughts on “Christmas Tree Throwdown: Real Versus Artificial

    • Aww…my brother used to get terrible asthma attacks at Christmas until my dad and stepmother realized he was allergic to the tree. It was no fun to have a toddler in the hospital at Christmas. That’s why they have the artificial one, and it’s great that those with allergies still get to enjoy their tree!

    • That is the advantage of the artificial tree…you can keep the tree up as long as you want and buy some scented candles. Ours will probably go up the first week of December, it makes a good day’s activity while my kid is out of school on her track out.

    • Yeah, that makes it easy! It’s quite likely Little Bit will be in the same boat since my mom has passed away and my inlaws go artificial too.

  1. We have a used artificial tree that we bought at a garage sale for $15 about seven years ago. It needs to be replaced so we are looking at used ones or deep sales after Christmas. As awesome as real trees are, we just can’t justified the cost. We do visit a Christmas tree farm every year to enjoy the sites, sounds, and smells of the real trees!

    • First, $15 is a real steal for 7 years of service. Awesome. And what a great idea, to go to the farm and enjoy even if you don’t get a tree.

  2. We use an artificial tree my wife’s had for about 15 years. It’s on the smaller side (which is good for us) and is perfectly capable of being the center of our Christmastime décor. While I like the idea of real trees, the convenience and cost-effectiveness of an artificial one can’t be beat. My only caveat is that the artificial tree has to look realistic, no funny colors, etc. As for the scent, we simply burn a nearby evergreen-scented candle.
    Gary @ Super Saving Tips recently posted…How to Take Advantage of Digital WalletsMy Profile

    • We do the candle thing too, Gary….or buy the cinnamon brooms/pine cones to make the house smell Christmassy. I don’t mind the outrageously fake looking trees, though. There’s something so retro-cool about a pink or white tree. (Then again, ours isn’t one of those.)

  3. I had chronic hives until my late teens so we never tried a real tree. I do think they’re beautiful! And as near as I can tell, they don’t give me allergies 🙂

    Right before my grandma died, she gave us her artificial tree. She spent every holiday with my family anyway, and she felt like she wasn’t home enough to enjoy it. So she bought a teeny one and gave us her big one. I can’t imagine Christmas any other way now!
    Penny @ She Picks Up Pennies recently posted…TRS Pension Windfall: Help Me Spend ItMy Profile

    • Artificial trees seem to be winning the day by a lot, at least among those who commented and voted. I guess they’ll be tradition for my kid as well.

  4. When we were first married we lived in an apartment and we were not allowed to have a real tree as it was considered a fire hazard. We bought a fake tree and have been using the same one for many, many years. I’m fine with fake, it’s what we always had when I was a kid and I really don’t like the pine scent.

    • The pine scent can be overwhelming to some, so artificial trees work better.

      It’s funny, but when I did a bit of research for this article, I read that the artificial trees actually burn too, and burn nastier because of all the chemicals. But you do have to add water to the real tree stands regularly to keep them from drying out, and not everyone remembers to do that often enough.

      Thanks for coming by and commenting, Carrie!

  5. I always loved the pine smell that permeated the house when I was a little girl at Christmas. However, I was also always sick at Christmas. As a teenager, I was the one who put the outside lights on the pretty spruce trees on each side of the house. One year it was very warm and when I came inside after putting the lights on the tree, my mother noticed angry, red welts on my arms. Nothing was done about it until years later when I was married and we had a potted spruce to replant in the yard after Christmas. Again the welts and a stuffy head at Christmas. When I seemed to have upper respiratory problems more and more I saw an allergist. I was highly allergic to many types of evergreens. That was not all, I had dozens of other allergies. From that point forward, no real Christmas trees and two prescriptions for meds and a shot once a week. When I moved away from WV to NC, my allergies improved about 90%. I took over the counter meds and no more shots. Now I live in Florida and have hardly any allergy symptoms. But, alas, we are too old to go through the agony of picking out a tree and getting a stand and sawing off the bottom of the trunk and watering it and keeping the cat away from it. So I have to say it will always be an artificial tree for our house.

    • I’m sure that the ease of setting up the artificial tree is one reason Jon pushed for it. He also claimed that I was allergic (I don’t think so…)

  6. We have used an artificial trees a few times. I think we still have it somewhere. The last 5 or 6 years we have gone with a real tree, The look, feel, smell is so much better. We have been buying our tree at Costco for under $30. Yes not the event like chopping down your own or trip to a big farm, but with our three kids now older it works for us.
    Brian @ Debt Discipline recently posted…Office Holiday PartyMy Profile

    • YAY Brian, Glad that someone finally spoke up for the real trees. Jon was able to find $30 trees at our local Food Lion yesterday, so I think that my $50 price point may be high for some. i don’t think we’ll be switching any time soon, though.

  7. We always had a real tree growing up. I enjoyed the family outing to the tree farm, hauling it home and decorating it. Ever since I’ve been out on my own though I have always opted for the artificial tree. When my little one gets a bit older though and would appreciate getting a real one more I think we will make the splurge for it. It’ll be a fun family tradition hopefully. Not like the Griswold’s outing for the biggest and best, but just a nice sized tree! 🙂
    The Green Swan recently posted…My Money Mistakes and RegretsMy Profile

    • We always went to a tree lot rather than a tree farm, and I used to pick mine up at Lowe’s when I was buying them. I do think the artificial ones are good when your kids are little…less worries about them getting stuck with little needles everywhere. So with your new little duckling on the way, you may want to stick with artificial a bit longer.

  8. As irrational as it is, and as non-frugal as it is (even when we go with a tiny tree), my heart will always belong to the real tree. We’re traveling so much for holidays that having a real tree means we miss most of the best days of the tree’s limited life. Plastic makes sense, is cheaper, store-able, reusable, etc. STILL, always, I long to have a real tree with the needles that drop even if that’s annoying to clean up, because it smells right and reminds me of being a kid. TBH, I can’t even be sure that we had real trees growing up but never you mind that, I adore a real tree.
    Revanche @ A Gai Shan Life recently posted…Open Enrollment 2016-2017, and the benefits of benefitsMy Profile

    • Aww…that’s a terrific defense of the real tree. It’s probably all about the emotional attachment above everything else. That’s a sweet defense of them, though.

  9. I never grew up with a real tree so the concept of cutting down a tree is completely foreign to me. With that said my mom LOVES Christmas so she puts on seven fake christmas trees around the house ranging from 8 feet to 12 feet. On top of that she puts them up the day after Halloween and doesn’t take them down until mid-January. So she definitely gets her money’s worth in my book 🙂
    Mustard Seed Money recently posted…Cheap Entertainment With Board GamesMy Profile

    • Seven trees for 2 1/2 months! Wow, MSM! Your Mom does love her Christmas, and that’s definitely her money’s worth.

      We don’t really have room to talk though. My Little Bit used her allowance last year for a little blue tree and kept it up all year in her room.

  10. I’m partial to an artificial tree. Although I don’t have one! Seems like a cheaper, easier option.

  11. Living tree. Get a tree in a pot. Bring it inside. Decorate it. Don’t let it dry out. After Christmas, take it outside. Plant it.

    Some trees will live for a year or so in a pot, so you can get two Christmas seasons from it. In any event, at least you’re not killing a tree, nor are you adding to the environmental mess with more plastic production.

    In the past, we had a Christmas Jade Plant. For reasons unknown, a jade plant I’d bought as a house plant grew happily into a gigantic critter. For several years running, we covered it with our Christmas decorations and piled up gifts beneath it. It was cool! Eventually it developed some rot and died…but we loved it while it lasted.
    Funny about Money recently posted…For a change: NOT phishing!My Profile

  12. I love a real tree, but between cost, allergies and animals…yes picture a 16lb cat climbing the tree…and the lab that thinks round ornaments are brightly colored tennis balls…we will limit the drama to the tennis balls and go for the artificial tree.

    • Ok, coffee’s coming out of my nose as I picture your giant cat trying to climb the tree and the dog chasing the ornaments. Reminds me of the Mickey Mouse Christmas cartoon where Chip and Dale are in the tree and Pluto’s trying to get them out. Yep, probably more drama (and possibly more screwball comedy) than you want in your living room.

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