Should You Get a Real or Artificial Christmas Tree? Here's How to Decide
If you can’t decide between a live tree or a faux fir this year, read this to help weigh your options.
Beyond what to gift everyone, how to travel safely, and how to celebrate without the whole family this year, there's another Christmas conundrum you might be grappling with: Should you buy an artificial Christmas tree, or stick to tradition with a real one? In the end, it'll come down to preference, but here are a few pros and cons of both Christmas tree options to help you make a decision.
Why People Love Real Christmas Trees
They Keep Festive Family Traditions Alive
Taking a plastic tree out of storage every year isn't quite the same as heading to a Christmas tree farm or local nursery and bringing home a fresh, live Christmas tree. For many people who celebrate Christmas, a genuine evergreen is a festive and romantic symbol of family, tradition, and nostalgia. In many households, it's a nonnegotiable, seasonal staple whose pros far outweigh any cons.
And don't just take our word for it. A 2019 survey for the Christmas Tree Promotion Board polled 2,000 American parents with children ages 17 and younger who celebrate Christmas. The survey revealed that people who purchase real Christmas trees are more likely to highly value creating new holiday traditions with family than those who prefer artificial trees. In the same survey, participants said getting a Christmas tree was their number-one favorite holiday tradition growing up, and continues to be one of their favorites to experience with their own children (just behind buying presents for under the tree). So if you're on the fence, according to these survey takers, a real-deal tree is simply irreplaceable.
Choosing a Tree Is a Fun Family Activity
This tradition isn't just about having the tree, it's about going to get it, too. It's a fun December activity to do with your kids or friends on a bright, chilly day. Little ones will love joining in to choose their favorite spruce for the living room, and it's the perfect weekend errand to get the whole crew in the holiday spirit.
They Smell Incredible
Christmastime comes with its own bouquet of seasonal scents, but the smell of fresh pine needles might be the most magical. Sure, you can always light an evergreen-scented candle or stick a Douglas fir diffuser on the coffee table, but it's hard to find something that comes close to the natural woody musk of a freshly cut Christmas tree.
They’re Biodegradable and Recyclable
For many years, the chopping down of real Christmas trees was misrepresented as detrimental to the environment, but that's not exactly right. They're a sustainable crop like any other natural crop, and the Christmas Tree Promotion Board says, "Christmas tree farmers make sure planting and harvesting are balanced to protect the environment. In fact, for every real Christmas tree they harvest, they plant at least one new tree." What's more, they're completely biodegradable and recyclable, which means they can be repurposed for mulch, instead of going to waste once December passes.
In contrast, artificial trees have three times the impact on climate change and resource depletion. They're made from plastic and steel, require more energy to produce, are shipped over from China, and will eventually sit in a landfill. According to a life cycle assessment of the comparative environmental impacts of both real and fake Christmas trees, the WAP Sustainability Consulting company concluded that "one real Christmas tree generates fewer environmental impacts than one artificial tree." However, a fake Christmas tree can have a smaller negative impact on the environment if the customer keeps it for five years or longer. But even still, once that tree is out of use, it can't be naturally reused or recycled.
It Supports Local Economy
What better way to support small businesses—especially ones whose business is seasonal—than getting a real Christmas tree from a local purveyor? While fake trees often come from large chain stores and are mass-manufactured overseas, that family-owned-and-operated Christmas tree farm or charming local nursery will greatly benefit from your business.
They’re Often Cheaper Than Artificial Trees
How much a Christmas tree ends up costing will depend on a few factors, like where you live, who you're buying from, and what kind of tree you're getting. But it's a myth that artificial Christmas trees are always the cheaper option—at least on a one-to-one basis. Based on data from The National Christmas Tree Association, the average price per real Christmas tree in 2018 was $78, while the average price per fake Christmas tree was $104.
Upsides to an Artificial Christmas Tree
You Can Reuse It Next Year (and the Year After That)
If budget is your biggest holiday concern, this might make your decision easier. Although the average price of a fake tree was nearly $30 more (at the time of purchase) in 2018, a faux tree can be used again and again, letting you off the hook from buying a real tree year after year. If you plan to display your fake tree for five (or more) Christmases, it could end up being the more economical choice.
They're No-Mess and No-Maintenance
Yes, real Christmas trees are fabulous—but they're high-maintenance too. It's one exceptional houseplant you'll need to tend to on a daily basis, and not everyone has the time or patience to deal (which is totally fair). One of the obvious reasons to get an artificial spruce is to eliminate the hassle of watering, sweeping, trimming, and worrying about the right placement for optimal freshness. And you won't need to lug it to the end of the driveway or a nearby recycling program post-Christmas.
They're Often Fire-Resistant
Most artificial Christmas trees are made with fire-resistant materials, potentially making them safer to string lights on and less to worry about. This may be top of mind if you've dealt with any sort of fire scare in holidays past or simply don't want to risk it.
They're Easy to Customize
You can't exactly request the specific tree of your dreams from Mother Nature (which, to many, is part of the charm), but ordering an artificial tree lets you customize to taste. Whether you prefer the look of a tall-and-lean Kingswood fir, voluminous Blue spruce, or rustic Ponderosa pine, human-made trees offer whatever you need—even if your preferred tree variety isn't naturally available where you live. You can also buy them pre-lit, deckled with pinecones, or frosted with illusion snow.