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 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 Responses to “Christmas Tree Throwdown: Real Versus Artificial”
    • Emily Jividen 11/21/2016
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