O Tannenbaum
December 17, 2003 10:17 AM   Subscribe

Christmas trees. Real or artificial? Or rather is it worth paying a high price for an artificial tree that looks very real rather than a relatively low price a real tree that looks, well, real?
posted by feelinglistless to Home & Garden (18 answers total)
I always had fake trees growing up (one parent was allergic) and liked them just fine. This year is the first with a real tree for me, and I like it a lot and will buy real ones from now on.

However, if you don't care about the scent and 'naturalness' of a real tree, then I'd recommend getting a high quality fake one. It can become part of your Xmas tradition - for us, Xmas started when we got the tree from the attic and started setting it up to be decorated. The good ones last forever and are certainly your best bet for the $. Make sure you get one where the branches are attached by hinges so they just fold up for storage. There should be no serious assembling required.
posted by widdershins at 10:39 AM on December 17, 2003

When my wife and I got married, she worked in a shop that made artificial flowers, plants, and trees. We got a huge discount on a top-of-the-line 8-foot artificial Christmas tree, which we used for the next fifteen years. Then, two years ago, we decided it had outlived its usefulness, so we gave it to Goodwill, took the kids to the tree lot and picked out a real one. This year we bought another real one, and I think we're going to stick with them. We like the pine smell, and the fact that we can get a different size or shape or color each year is nice after having so many years of the tree looking the same.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 10:39 AM on December 17, 2003

I prefer artificial tree for a couple of reasons. First, they look real enough now. If you spend a bit on it and can accept emotionally that you have an artificial tree, aesthetically it works fine. Second, you can get a tree with the lights prestrung. The lights are always the most aggravating part of putting up the tree. My artificial tree comes out of the box each year with perfectly arranged lights, and I just plug it in. This is the artificial tree's killer feature. Also, no needles shed, no pan of water. A one time purchase without the hassle or expense of a new tree each year. (If getting a tree is an integral part of your Christmas, skip it.)
posted by putzface_dickman at 10:41 AM on December 17, 2003

If the outdoors at all bothers your nose, DON'T get a real tree. I was miserable during Xmas during my childhood until we got an artificial tree.
posted by agregoli at 10:50 AM on December 17, 2003

Well, since you asked... we're getting a real tree this year.

We get a real tree every five years.

Don't laugh, but it's because I felt it was unnecessary to kill a tree for Christmas every year. Getting one every five years seems about right; it makes it a lot more special and, I'd like to think, helps us appreciate the tree that's being sacrificed for our pleasure. I said don't laugh!

On a practical note, though, it's also a pain in the ass - the selecting, the paying through the nose, the hauling, the wrestling, the needles dropping, the water, the cats wanting to climb it, etc. While there's nothing like the smell of a real tree, etc., I'm glad that the other four years we have a nicely realistic fold-up tree to deal with.
posted by soyjoy at 10:55 AM on December 17, 2003

we often have both. the decorating is often out of hand at my house. both have merits, but i say go for the expensive fake one. less mess and less hassle when it comes time to take the decorations down. especially if you're in a neighborhood with strict garbage rules.

if you do get a fake one, you are going to want to shower it off/hose it down regularly and you're going to want to invest in a decent storage system (we use big rubber trashcans). so storage is also an issue with the fake ones. i have found that with the real ones, i tend to just throw the strings of lights away with the tree (lo, i am an american).

plus the cats mangle the fake one a little less than they do the real sort.
posted by crush-onastick at 10:58 AM on December 17, 2003

I've never had a fake tree, but I know I'd miss the smell.
posted by Orange Goblin at 11:12 AM on December 17, 2003

If you live in a city, or anywhere where it's hard to dispose of a real tree, get an artificial one. The few times I've used real trees it's ended in spiky, smelly, itchy, needle-laden disaster.

It's possible to get beautiful artificial trees which last 20 years plus - meanwhile it's tough to get a real tree to last a month in a heated home. There's nothing less Christmassy or more tragic than watching a beautiful fir slowly die during Advent.
posted by skylar at 11:52 AM on December 17, 2003

My wife always had real trees and was adamantly against getting anything but a real tree.

But one year, we went down to the World Trade Center in Dallas after all their big shows and found hundreds of fake trees at below wholesale.

We got a beautiful 9' fake tree for 150 bucks (that would retail for 500+).

She was heistant at first, but found that she loved it. It came with the lights already perfectly placed with hidden wires, so it looked more attractive and real. If you notice, real trees look weird with all the crap we put on them. But our fake tree looked exquisite. Perfectly full, perfectly balanced.

So we are very happy with our fake tree. It makes it easier to put up and take down because you don't have to mess with the lights. It isn't messy. It is better looking.

And since we were paying $50 bucks a year on a fake thing we threw away, at $150 bucks we were getting a bargain.

So if you live in Atlanta, LA, Dallas or New York and have access to one of the homefurnishing trade centers, I highly recomment going there and getting a great deal on a beautiful fake tree.
posted by Seth at 12:11 PM on December 17, 2003

My grandparents live on a few acres of pine forest up in Shasta county. They always used to cut a tree from their property and set it up in the living room when we came up there for Xmas. Then they switched to using an artificial. As a child, I couldn't understand why they would bother when they had so many trees. Now I understand that they simply felt the loss of the tree more deeply since it had actually grown from a sapling on their land, in their time, not on some sequestered tree farm miles outside the city. Soon after, my family converted to artifical as well.

You can rationalize the cutting down of a tree for decorative purposes many ways. It's raised on a farm for just this purpose, etc etc. But it's virtually impossible to feel bad about going artificial and saving a tree. Not to mention the hassle of disposing of one.

Which reminds me: if you're the kind to chop it up and put it in the fireplace after Xmas, all pretense to having a low impact on the environment has to go out the window.
posted by scarabic at 12:27 PM on December 17, 2003

It's probably a pipe dream, but I'd love to see research into the possibility of using Christmas trees to phytoextract pollutants from urban brownfields. It moves their growth closer to the people who'll buy them, provides for in-town greenery, AND (this, of course, is the wiggy part) it cleans up the site.
posted by claxton6 at 1:01 PM on December 17, 2003

I used to be adamant that it was a real tree or none at all. We used to go out and "hunt" our own tree and sometimes spent hours trying to find the perfect tree. The fun went out of it a little when we got the car bogged one year and it cost $180 to get a tow truck to come in the middle of the night and pull us out. Then the kids came along and started ripping handfuls of pine needles out and distributing them around the house and that, coupled with the uneasy feeling of having killed a tree just to have something pretty in the house for a few weeks, made us decide to buy a fake one. We bought a good quality one and have never looked back. I miss the smell, but not the mess that followed the real trees from obtaining them right through to disposing of them.
posted by dg at 2:06 PM on December 17, 2003

Neither. No smell, no needles, no maintenance, no clogging the dumpster Dec 26! I posted this earlier in AxMeFi, but it got lost in the archives. This is my solution to the season. :) (But yeah, we do miss the smell.)
posted by yoga at 2:44 PM on December 17, 2003

Turns out we've gone with the real tree. It's the smell.
posted by feelinglistless at 3:15 PM on December 17, 2003

If you are the kind of person who likes to put the tree up on the day after Thanksgiving and leave it up right through the twelve days of Christmas, go fake. Real trees can't take that.

If you only want it for a week or so, go real. Nothing beats a real tree.
posted by litlnemo at 4:53 PM on December 17, 2003

We always get a real tree - we cut one down from a farm and then I donate money to plant another one in its place. I look for an imperfect one that no one else will want - one with lots of empty spaces and gaps - a Charlie Brown kind of tree, only 9 ft tall. Then I take it home and cut about half of the branches off of it and make it even more imperfect - lots of empty spaces make great showcases for treasured ornaments, and the imperfections give the tree its personality and individuality. I can't stand perfect Christmas trees, or theme trees.

I will murder anyone who uses only flowered pink victorian fans on their tree, so be forewarned.
posted by iconomy at 4:54 PM on December 17, 2003

I love real trees. I understand the practicality issues for some people, but I absolutely do not see this as an environmental issue, and I'm pretty darned concerned about the environment in general. Christmas trees are probably the most renewably raised of all trees; farmers want them to grow up big, full, and healthy, and they want to be get the most out of their land for the many years it takes to raise a healthy crop of trees. They have to plan sensibly and rotate their planting and harvesting from plot to plot. A schoolmate of mine lived on a tree farm and we used to always get our trees there, so maybe I'm just more in touch with the realities of this than people who've only bought their trees from a lot in the city.

Yes they don't last very long once they're in a heated house, yes you have to water them (very important for fire safety), yes they shed a lot of needles at the end. But it's a wonderful tradition to have a real tree in your home for a month every year.

Oh, and I absolutely hate seeing discarded trees with lights still on them. Sorry, Crush, but it's just not that hard to take the lights back off. If the lights are no good, throw them away, but put them in the normal garbage. The tree, at least, is very biodegradable and at least in my town is hauled away separately from other garbage. Lights go to the landfill, I'm afraid. If you're too lazy to do this then definitely buy a nice artificial tree with built in lights.

I also see a lot of discarded trees still covered with tinsel, spun glass, etc.. Please don't do this either. Aside from the waste and litter, mylar and glass are pretty nasty on the systems of the animals that eat them (I seem to remember reading particularly bad things about cats and tinsel). If you can't be bothered to clean up after yourself then don't put this stuff on your tree.
posted by Songdog at 8:47 PM on December 17, 2003


i guess you're right. i never really thought of the fact that the lights screw up the chipper-shredding of the tree. my point was not that "hey! bonus when you throw away the tree, you can throw away all the used up stuff too" but more that when i have a real tree, i don't tend to reuse stuff from last year" which is just as bad actually.

so, mark a change for me this year.
posted by crush-onastick at 8:11 AM on December 18, 2003

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