The Christmas Tree Dilemma: Artificial or Real?

Hacking the Holidays

My family celebrates Christmas and, like many households, one of the focal points of our holiday season is the Christmas Tree.  We’ve always had a real tree, but for the past few years, the question of whether to go artificial has raised its head.  Perhaps it’s because once we had kids, the whole season became so insanely busy that anything that might conceivably save some time is worth considering.  Or maybe it’s because as I get older, the whole routine of hoisting a tree up onto the roof of the van, going through the routine of securing it for the drive home, cutting it to the right height and then dragging it through the house becomes distinctly less appealing.  Not to mention doing the reverse when it’s time to dispose of the tree.  And the needles…  Don’t get me wrong, I like the pine fresh smell, but those needles eventually end up down air vents, on bookcases, in my shoes, even lodged in keyboards.

We’ve never had a Clarke Griswold, Christmas Vacation kind of tree experience (any of them), but the Charlie Brown Christmas lot full of aluminum trees has never had much appeal either.  Speaking of which, there’s actually an aluminum tree museum, if you’re ever feeling nostalgic for shiny, space age fake Christmas trees.   


Complicating the whole decision is the Green issue.  There are lots of people out there who know a lot more about the science of this than I do, who have spent years arguing whether real trees or artificial trees are a greener option; but Google continues to tell me it’s pretty much a wash.  Depending on variables like how far you drive to buy your real tree, how far it had to be shipped to the sales lot, whether your community recycles old trees after Christmas, what type of plastic your artificial tree is made of and how long your artificial tree will be in service, the argument can tip in either direction.  I’ve yet to see an absolutely decisive, convincing and balanced conclusion.

And then there’s the economics of the decision.

I paid $40 Canadian for a nice, full, seven and a half foot tall Fraser fir.  Allowing for a generous ten percent annual increase in the price of trees, that means we’d spend just over $500 US (or $640 Canadian) on trees over the next decade- assuming there’s no catastrophic fir shortage that drives prices through the roof.  We’ve been looking around for the past few months and have found one artificial tree in particular that we really like.  It boasts realistically molded needles (only a trivial three percent of needles are the old-style PVC), a wooden-look trunk (the standard green steel pole wrapped in green fuzzy garland has never cut it for me) and 1,400 lights with a remote control.  This is a fake tree I could live with: modeled on an actual tree species; ultra realistic; lots of lights; and every guy’s must-have feature, the remote control.  Unfortunately, it’s priced at over $1000 US.  Since I live in Canada, there’s a few hundred bucks in shipping and brokerage fees on top of that and then the 20 percent exchange rate as well.  With sales tax, we’d ultimately be looking at somewhere around $1800 Canadian.  Even more frightening, the company sells wreaths and garlands based on the same model of tree and my wife mentioned something about looking at a coordinated set, if we went that route. 

So, unless that ultimate artificial tree goes on sale -and drastically so- after Christmas, I think I can tell you which of the two options is the "green" choice for us, at least when the green you’re talking about is money.  And if the vacuum cleaner exhaust still smells like pine in June, well, that just means we don’t have to worry about buying air freshener for a while either.

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