The Great Christmas Debate: Real Trees vs. Artificial

The Rest / Friday, December 14th, 2012

It’s the great Christmas debate.

I’m not talking about your opinion of those newsy Christmas letters (for the record, I like getting them). And I’m also not talking about whether to open presents on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. Or even whether or not to have a nativity scene on the town square.

Nope, I’m talking about the tree.

Once when my kids were very small, we drove to a Christmas tree farm and chose a real, living Christmas tree to bring home. It was a fun family outing, but that year is the only time in 26 years of marriage that I can remember buying a real tree.

We’re just artificial tree people.

Both real and artificial trees have their advantages. In thinking about it, this is how it breaks down for me:

Advantages of Artificial Christmas Trees


Initially, artificial trees are more expensive than live ones, but multiply that real tree purchase price over the number of years you have your artificial tree and the artificial tree wins.


I find owning an artificial tree simpler. I don’t have to find the time each year to go pick out a live one (although I realize this can be an enjoyable tradition) and I don’t have to worry that the tree will be too large or too small or too lopsided or won’t fit in the tree stand, etc.

I may have taken this simplicity to the extreme. In my old house, where we had more storage, I even went so far as to remove the ornaments and store the tree fully assembled with the lights still on it. Because I’ll admit that assembling trees is a drag. If I had the space, I’d still do that.


A real trees that is allowed to dry out pose a fire risk. No such risk exists for an artificial tree.

Writing this reminds me of a routine by the comedian Gallagher, who describes Christmas this way: we cut down trees and dry them out, cover them with cheap wiring, place tissue paper underneath, and then invite our friends over to get drunk and light candles. Ha!

Advantages of Real Christmas Trees

No storage required

Artificial Christmas trees take up quite a bit of space to store. Live trees live in the ground on someone else’s property until you’re ready to go claim them each year and then dispose of them when you’re done.


I’m not talking about the color, but the environmental factor. Normally, cutting down trees isn’t a particularly green thing to do, but since many live Christmas trees are planted on Christmas tree farms for just this purpose, I find them to be more environmentally friendly than the manufacture and disposal of artificial trees


I almost always prefer something real to something artificial. (See: operation living houseplant) And there is no denying that there is something special and charming about a real, live Christmas tree. If I ever do make the switch to a live tree, it will be the authenticity factor that draws me in.

I know that most people have opinions about this so weigh in: are you on team real Christmas tree or team artificial?

22 Replies to “The Great Christmas Debate: Real Trees vs. Artificial”

  1. Apparently there is a third and even less popular option. No tree.
    2 years ago I sent our old artificial tree away because most of the needles had fallen off and each December I have spent hours reading on the internet trying to decide what to replace it with. This year I came up with the same choice as last year. No tree. Not a popular choice.

    According to what I have read both trees are bad for allergies and asthma. (Me and my daughter)

    Artificial ones contain lead. (cat keeps insisting on eating fake greens)

    When I finally thought I had decided on getting a real tree, I went and looked at some and was shocked to realize some of them are sprayed with dye to make them greener. Or evergreens now have bright green trunks?

    So the house is decorated and the presents are piled but no tree and I am okay with that.

    1. The cheapest, greenest option of them all, Cherie. :) If a tree isn’t important to you, I say skip it. And good points about the allergies.

  2. Ah, good question. We used to get real trees, but have been so disappointed with them. Last year I made the decision to buy an artificial tree. For the $200 investment (most real trees cost us between $80-$125) we would save money by the third year. This is the second year we’ve put it up and LOVE it. It looks real, but of course doesn’t have that real tree smell. Instead, I buy real wreaths and hang them around the house. The tree smell is there, without all the mess!

    1. I like that approach, Sharon. In fact, I had hoped to bring some live wreaths into my house this year for just that reason. Where do you get yours? At the Christmas tree lots? A nursery? I’ve never bought a live wreath before.

  3. I’m all about the artificial tree.. we’ve never had a real tree. I love the *smell* of a real tree, but every other bonus lies with the artificial tree if you ask me. As long as you buy a high quality artificial tree, nobody can tell. Every year people think ours is real…

    1. It’s interesting that the responses to this question on Facebook were heavily in the “real tree” camp and so far, on the blog it’s artificial or no tree at all. It sounds like your tree is beautiful, Carla.

  4. I’d also add an artificial tree is less messy. Those pine needles on the real ones end up everywhere! Mr. LH and I actually forgo the tree since we don’t have children. Neither one of us miss having one and it just makes the holidays less stressful.Twinkle lights on our patio will due for me.

    1. Good point, LH. I have a few artificial needles to vacuum up when we put the tree up or take it down, but other than that it is mess-free. And I am with you completely: the lights are what make Christmas for me. The tree just happens to be a place to put them. Enjoy your Christmas patio!

  5. It’s a real tree or nothing for us! (We’ve gone with nothing for the last couple years.) We do have the advantage of living in the midst of a Christmas tree growing area. We go to the farm and cut a tree. They shake the dead needles off and wrap it up for easy transport. Many of the local farms have petting zoos, horse-drawn sleigh or wagon rides, gift shops and other events. The farms make their whole year’s income in just a few weeks! With proper watering, I find the tree lasts through the season and the mess is minimal. It’s the essence of buying local and sustainable. And it smells so good!

    1. That Christmas tree farm experience sounds completely charming, Teresa. And another “no tree” comment too. I may have been asking the wrong question all along. Maybe it should be tree vs. no tree.

  6. We only do real trees around here for a few reasons:
    ~ My husband takes Christmas very seriously. Not only must the tree be real but it must be almost perfect. We sometimes spend a good hour traipsing around the tree farm looking for that ideal tree.
    ~ Visiting the tree farm twice each season – once to pick out the tree, then again to cut it down a couple of weeks later – is part of our family’s holiday tradition. We often set up a tripod and take our yearly holiday photo to put on our cards.
    ~ We like to support our local tree farm. We go to a lovely place tucked into a vineyard in the hills. The family who owns it lives on the property and they hire teens every year to help cut, bale and carry the trees for customers. They are not cheap – often our tree will run around $175. But the money, to us, is well worth it.

    I would not be opposed to a faux tree – I find them convenient, not messy and easier on the old wallet. But I think we will stick with real, at least for the foreseeable future.

  7. Julie, I agree with all the pros and cons of both live trees and artificial. We’ve always been live tree people but I’m trying to convince my husband to go the artificial route soon. We currently have a large live tree that is set up on our screen porch. This might sound strange to some but it is clearly visible thru the family room window and I don’t have to deal with pine needles in the house. The tree also stays fresher out in the brisk cold air. We also set up a smaller artificial tree in the window of our living room. This tree was designated as the “kid tree” years ago. It’s where the littles ones would hang the non breakable and homemade ornaments they brought home from pre-school. My oldest is 18 and she still loves hanging those Popsicle stick stars she made when she was 3. So for now, we are are enjoying the benefits of both types of trees.

    1. Bestmommy, a live tree on the screen porch doesn’t sound strange at all. It sounds perfect. And isn’t it interesting which traditions are important to our kids? Love the thought of your 18 year-old hanging her popsicle stick stars. :)

  8. We did the real tree one year, and I definitely prefer the artificial tree. I find it easier to put up our artificial tree. It’s not sticky. And I don’t kill it by forgetting to water :-)

  9. I would love a real tree. Since, however, I am allergic, we have only ever had fake ones.

    Plus, if the dog chews on the fake one, the worst he’s going to get in some plastic needles in his mouth instead of point bark in his GI tract.

    1. We have allergies, too, Becky. Plus I think I’m one of only a few people ever not to like the scent of pine. Good point about your dog!

  10. I switched to artificial a few years ago, after being a lifelong lover of the real cut tree, because my husband griped so much about bringing it home, getting it in the house, and taking it down after Christmas. Now, though, after having problems with the lights with the last 2 artificial trees I’ve bought, I’m considering going back to a real one next year. I have a small “alpine” style faux tree in my living room that I love – it truly is easy, because I can store it in the closet assembled and it doesn’t take up much space. It’s the big tree (7 1/2′) that is the hassle. For one thing, the nice ones with the realistic-looking plastic needles weigh a TON. And they are not cheap. I got a slimmer model two years ago, and it is a little easier to manage. However, today one section of lights went out, which is what happened to the last one. It’s practically impossible to determine if it’s one bulb that’s causing the problem because there are so many lights on the thing that it’s hard to find them all when they are not lit. It’s true that if an an individual bulb burns out, the rest stay lit. However, if one is loose or missing, the whole section won’t light. I’m sure this is a safety feature, but it’s very frustrating. So next year, I’m thinking small (5′ or so) real tree, which would be more manageable than a six or seven-footer, set up on a table to raise the height.

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