Real vs. artificial Christmas tree: Which is better?

Let's get to the bottom of this once and for all. Is a real tree better than an artificial one?
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Rebecca Cuneo Keenan, December 4, 2013 12:52:28 PM

Let’s set aside over-sentimentalized nostalgia and get to the bottom of this debate once and for all. Is it better to get a real Christmas tree or an artificial one? Here are the considerations. Let’s see how they measure up.

Safety
Fire safety has long been a concern surrounding real Christmas trees. As they dry out, they are more prone to catching fire from those over-heated Christmas lights you forgot to unplug before going to bed. Artificial trees have traditionally been much safer on this front, but now that cool-to-the-touch LED lights are becoming the norm, real trees are no longer much of a fire hazard.

Set up
Anyone who has ever strapped a real tree to the roof of their car and then lugged it up several flights of stairs, sweated over an ill-fitting Christmas stand and then stood back only to have their tree come crashing down knows the truth about this. Artificial trees are much easier to set up.

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The experience
Driving out to a Christmas tree farm to find the perfect tree and cut it down yourself and warming up with a cup of hot cider can make a wonderful holiday tradition. Heck, even trekking out to the local supermarket parking lot and selecting the right tree can be fun. Digging around in your storage locker really can’t compete. Real trees win this round.

Longevity
If you want to get the most of the holiday season by putting up your tree as early as possible and keeping it up into the new year, then artificial trees are for you. Real trees will start to dry out and shed their needles eventually, no matter how much you water them.

Mess
Yeah, about those needles. You may very well be sweeping up Christmas tree needles into March after putting up a real tree. How do they get into every nook and cranny?! You should also probably keep a pair of gloves in with your holiday decorations to sacrifice to the tree sap because there’s no way around it.

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Allergies
PIne trees can carry various kinds of mould that many people have allergic reactions to. If you seem to come down with allergies or asthma attacks mysteriously over the holidays every year, it could be the tree. So chalk another one up for artificial trees.

Eco impact
While real trees are often sprayed with pesticide which can contaminate the ground water and pose a bit of municipal waste disposal headache, they are also renewable resources that are completely biodegradable. Artificial trees are often made from high-polluting PVCs and can shed toxic lead-tainted dust from their needles. This means that despite the artificial tree’s reusability, real trees win the eco contest.

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Cost
Real trees cost between $10 and $300 depending on the size and type of tree. Artificial trees are priced between $80 and $1200 depending on the size, density and and quality of the tree. So while it probably is more economical to buy an artificial tree you can use for several years, it will still take three or four years before you start to see that savings.

So, about that sentimental nostalgia. If you really like the smell and experience of having a real tree in your home, then the extra pain and hassle of getting it there will be worth it to you. If you just want it to look pretty, however, then there are many good reasons for sticking with an artificial tree. It looks like one kind of tree isn’t necessarily better than the other, but after considering all these factors it’s up to you to decide which is right for you!

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Rebecca Cuneo Keenan