Real Vs. Fake Christmas Trees

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Real or fake Christmas tree? That is the question. Read our research and opinion to help decide which is the best sustainable living choice for your family.

My Childhood Experience

One of the family traditions I have insisted on continuing from my childhood is an annual trip to cut down a fresh Christmas tree.

Real or Fake Tree 1

The anticipation of our long, relaxing walk through acres of farmland gives me warm, nostalgic feelings. Most years I prepare a thermos of hot chocolate and we rebel against the holiday rush by sauntering (for hours sometimes) through aisles of aromatic pines.

The search for “the perfect tree” is less about perfection, and more about fun, relaxation, and tradition. Our trip to a tree farm in the mountains of Western North Carolina this year was beyond picturesque and relaxing.

Real or Fake Tree 2

It wasn’t until a few years ago that I even started to consider other reasons to purchase a real tree at Christmas, I just knew I wanted one. But the more reading and research I did about this holiday tradition, the more sense it made.

Real or Fake Christmas Tree

Let’s examine the facts.

Real Trees

  • Each time you purchase a real Christmas tree from an American farm, you are making a contribution to that local economy.
  • According to the National Christmas Tree Association (NCTA), there are about 15,000 Christmas Tree farms in the U.S., employing over 100,000 individuals.
  • The NCTA estimates that over 350,000 acres of farmland in the U.S. are used specifically for farming Christmas trees, preserving valuable green space.
Real or Fake Tree 3
  • Real Christmas trees absorb carbon dioxide and other harmful gases from the environment and release oxygen into the air. Furthermore, young, fast-growing trees release more oxygen and absorb more carbon dioxide than mature trees. (source)
  • Real trees are renewable and recyclable.
  • You can purchase a live potted tree that is planted outdoors after Christmas. (We all thought my dad was crazy the first time he did this. After a few years of this seeming foolishness, we realized we had a small forest sprouting beside our house. Perfect for a game of hide and seek. Thanks, Dad!)
  • For each real Christmas tree cut down, another is planted in its place to ensure a consistent supply.
wood shavings
  • Thousands of recycling programs, also known as “treecycling,” have been started around the country. Some trees are chipped to make biodegradable mulch for parks and playgrounds. Others are used on beaches or river beds to help with sand and soil erosion or act as wind and water barriers. Still, others are used to create a safe habitat and feeding area for aquatic life when sunk in ponds and lakes.
  • Planning a trip to cut down a Christmas tree promotes family togetherness and most often becomes a cherished family tradition.
  • You may just be blessed enough to live on some land where you can cut a Christmas tree down for free!
  • Let’s face it – you can’t beat the fresh pine fragrance a real tree creates in your home.

Artificial Trees

  • Fake trees are produced with petroleum-based plastics. The manufacturing of non-renewable plastics requires natural resources from our environment that we can’t get back once they are gone.
  • Most fake trees are made with polyvinyl chloride (PVC), which is known to release toxic byproducts during manufacture. Furthermore, the manufacture of plastic and metal components consumes a great deal of energy.
  • Many older artificial trees are contaminated with metal toxins, such as lead.
  • Artificial Christmas trees may be used for several years, but eventually, all end up in landfills.
  • Fake trees are not biodegradable or recyclable. Once they have become garbage in a landfill, fake trees will remain there for decades.
  • Most artificial trees that are sold in the U.S. are shipped from China, Korea, or Taiwan, increasing the environmental impact of these trees even more.

Real Christmas Trees in My House!

In this economy, many families may not want to shell out money for a real Christmas tree, and may instead opt to erect an artificial tree. In my house, this just won’t do. We figure the cost of a fresh tree into our budget each year and eagerly await our tree-cutting field trip. We justify the recurrent cost of a fresh tree by weighing it against the environmental impact of an artificial tree.

We don’t mind the needles on the carpet, the occasional watering, or the sap that might end up on our winter coats. Furniture gets rearranged to make space for the beautiful green giant because it’s a family room staple for about two solid months. Yipeeee!

What about you?

Do you purchase a real or fake Christmas tree and why?


References and Resources:

About Betsy Jabs

Betsy holds a bachelor's degree in Psychology and a Master's degree in Counseling, and for nearly a decade worked as an elementary counselor. In 2011 she left her counseling career to pursue healthy living. She loves using DIY Natural as a way to educate people to depend on themselves to nourish their bodies and live happier healthier lives. Connect with Betsy on Facebookand Twitter.

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  1. Sarah says

    I grew up with real trees and fell in love with a man who is terribly allergic to them, like so many others have commented. When we buy our house, we will invest in a nice, neat “half” artificial tree (one with a flat back that hangs on a wall), in keeping with most of our other minimalist decor.

    I foresee lots of wintery walks through forests in our future, so we can enjoy the nature without having to bring it inside our little hypo-allergenic sanctuary.

    • Betsy Jabs says

      Your “hypo-allergenic sanctuary” comment had me cracking up! 🙂 I’m picturing everything sterile and white, with you and the hubby walking around in hospital masks. 😉 Sounds like leaving nature outdoors is your best bet. Lol.

  2. Betsy Jabs says

    Not sure if this will work for all of you with allergies, but our local Christmas tree farm recommended spraying your fresh tree down with water to wash off allergens before bringing it into the house. Of course, this doesn’t apply to folks who are allergic to the actual pine tree, but it may be helpful for some. (And a bit of a hassle too, since it will have to dry before dragging it indoors.) Just thought I might add this. 🙂

  3. Jess O. says

    What a timely article! My mom and I have been debating the pros and cons. I forwarded it to her, I’m sure she thought it was an argument for a fake tree (that’s the way I was leaning), she’ll be pleasantly surprised.
    We always had a real tree growing up. My husband and I got a fake tree years ago and I’m okay with it, but it’s not the same. Looks like we’ll have the best of both worlds this year ( we recently relocated to be closer to family), a real one at my parent’s house and the fake one here.

  4. Sarah says

    Every year, my mom says she is going to just purchase a fake tree, so that she doesn’t have to worry about it being watered and it can just be stored…and every year, wouldn’t you know, her GROWN (and not even in the house most of the time) children refuse to let her…so every year, at home, we have a real Christmas tree…I grew up in Oregon, with an abundance of Christmas tree farms, but we usually just go to one of the local corner lots with the trees already cut (major city people, what can I say?) or we purchase through the band at the local high school. Fundraiser! 🙂

  5. Alyssa McVey says

    One of my favorite memories growing up is going out with my extended family and cutting down our own trees every year. Unfortunately I am not only allergic to the scent on pine, but to the touch as well. It makes me sad that my kids won’t experience having a real tree, but my health is more important. Maybe they’ll be able to have real trees when they are grown.

  6. Jeremiah says

    I grew up with artificial trees. I remember the first year we had a real tree and it was great.
    My grandma bought her fake tree in 1970 and when she passed away in 1996 we had it donated to a local church that still uses it. My parents had a fake tree they bought in 1980 and donated it in 2000 to a local church. They did real trees for a few years and when my mom got tired of the prep work and watering (we all helped but she got tired of it) she went out and found a big, beautiful fake tree. We’ve used that one for around 6 years and this year she wants a live tree (5′ or so) and maybe the fake one will come out again next year.
    I live in a small studio apartment and having a fake tree provides me with safety (less likely to burn down the building) and the ease of city living. I don’t have to drag the tree hone and then into the alley, fix it up to come inside, sweep and clear the debris… etc.
    If I had my own home and a large yard I’d get a real tree, plant it and decorate it outside every year. I’d keep the little fake one and use it inside. It’s already done the damage to our environment, right? May as well get as much out of it as possible.

  7. Jessie - Rabid Little Hippy says

    I’m asthmatic although blessedly lightly and being a bit wheezy is a small price to pay. However, rather than chopping down a tree we bought a potted one and have managed not to kill it in the 12 months since (it survived by the skin of its needles) so we will either plant it out or repot it again. We’re in Victoria Australia so if we plant it outside we can open our gifts under the tree in the sunshine on Christmas morning. 🙂

  8. S. Eric Rhoads says

    I don’t like killing a tree for something as trivial as a Christmas tree. Given space, I would rather decorate a live tree in my yard.

    Typically though, I just decorate a small 3′ artificial tree I have had for ~8-9 years. If you are concerned about chemicals, there are a number of artificial tree makers providing environmentally friendly alternatives including utilizing recycled materials.

    Also if you want the article to be fair, then you need to consider the environmental impact of your local farmer and tree recycling programs. Does he water his trees? Does he use fertilizer? Does it utilize mechanized equipment that burns fossil fuels? How much fuel is burnt from all of the people traveling to the location?

    Also to be considered is the end result of the various local tree recycling programs. The tree may be used as fuel for energy purposes or chipped and turned into fuel pellets. If that is the case then any carbon trapping benefit is rendered moot.

  9. Alicia says

    A real tree is a lovely tradition. When my daughter was growing up we’d get a Charlie Brown tree and try to “plump” it up with spray-on snow. Not very green but I didn’t know better then. We would splurge and get a new ornament or two and would marvel at our wondrous creation. A couple of stockings and presents and we had Christmas!
    These days my husband and I use a fake tree and will continue to do so. I pack it up carefully each year and it should last indefinitely. When I go to Goodwill I see many fake trees that could be recycled back into use. I think everyone should do what’s best for their situation but not be wasteful or overspend.

  10. Blu says

    The best Christmas tree is in a flower pot. After Christmas you can plant a whole new tree instead of throwing away some dried already up .

  11. sage_brush says

    We’ve had both over the years, and are now firmly in the real tree camp. Nothing to compare to it. Additionally – we are fortunate to live in a woodsy area, and my husband always drags the tree to the back of the yard where other brush is piled up. (We live along a creek) Small mammals and even small birds shelter there during our brutal winters. We can even see that deer have curled up next to it at night, using it as a windbreak.

    It’s always fascinating to look at the different paw and claw prints in the snow. Tells a story all its own.

  12. Sharon says

    I prefer a real tree. I love the smell! When the season is over … we chop our tree up and use it as kindling for our fireplace. 🙂 Thanks for the post … I will be hunting down a local tree-farm for this year’s tree.

  13. Jana Rade says

    Nothing beats a real Xmas tree. Back in my old country it was done differently; trees that were cut to thin out the new growth were sold for Xmas trees. Made sense, the country is small, no Xmas tree farms there. These trees would need to be cut anyway, and this way they got a nice “Swan Song.” They weren’t as pretty, they usually needed to be placed in a corner of the room, because they typically only had one “good side.”

    When I moved here I was surprised that you guys actually grow trees specifically for this purpose, and how pretty they look. As a matter of fact, we got some property up north and were considering starting a Xmas tree farm ourselves.

    • Betsy Jabs says

      Very interesting Jana. The imperfect trees always work very well for us because it seems we’re always stuffing them in a corner.

      I don’t think a tree farm is easy work, as I have known a few xmas tree farmers, but they definitely enjoy it…along with so many families who visit the farms each winter. Good luck with your decision!

  14. Steven Horvat says

    As much as I would like to enjoy a real tree, the fact is that I sneeze and my eyes water and come christmas time I might as well be having it in the hospital. No fake is the way to go. One price for several years and then take them to the recycleing center where they are disposed of properly not the dump! I guess the parts where you are don’t believe in recycling?

  15. Heaven Walton says

    Someone shared some really cool information with me this year about real Christmas trees and want to pass the word! Apparently you can replant the cut trees after you’ve used them for Christmas and they will continue growing! What you do is cut the bottom of the tree off just a bit. Then once you have it in your stand, make sure it stays very saturated the whole time it’s there. When Christmas is over, you take it outside and replant it (preferrably, you’ll dig a hole while the ground isn’t frozen). As long as the tree isn’t in bad shape before you buy it and you constantly keep water in the stand, it should take root and grow beautifully! I haven’t tried it out yet, but know a couple different people who have and it worked great. Yay!

    • Betsy Jabs says

      Wow! We have not heard that before…that’s awesome! We’ll be looking into that. We always cut off a little bit of the tree before putting it in the stand, and are vigilant about watering. So, all these years we could have been replanting??? Thanks so much for sharing!

  16. Britta says

    I too am a big fan of real Christmas trees! However… Living in south of Texas where “real” Christmas trees doesn’t grow and only way to pick your tree is to go to the grocery, Lowes, HomeDepot – or a “not real” pine tree farm – we bought our fake tree last year.
    I miss miss MISS the real tree but the fun and pleasure of going out in winter clothes to actually CUT your own tree is non existent so our kids – as a previous commenter also said – loves when we put the tree together all of us, put up the ornaments and keep it up for so much longer as its not a grey, brown dried out stick after 10 days – inside or outside, watered or not!
    If we lived anywhere else in a decent proximity of a REAL tree farm we would go back to get a real tree – and keep the fake tre safely in its storage till next time we would need it!

    • Betsy Jabs says

      A tree farmer I know once told us that those trees shipped to tree lots are already a few weeks old, and have been without water that whole time. No wonder they turn brown and lose their needles so quickly! He also said they are often sprayed with green paint to hide imperfections. Yuck!

      Hope you get to experience the cut-your-own Christmas again some day. I would really miss it too if I lived where they didn’t grow. 🙁

  17. Ann Marie @ Cheeseslave says

    What a lovely article! I’m with you, real Christmas trees all the way. To me, it just isn’t Christmas without a real tree.

    Thanks for writing this – I was unsure about what the best choice was for the environment. Now I’m excited to get our tree! My 5-year-old and I are going to make homemade ornaments this year: popcorn and cranberry garlands, dried oranges hung with ribbon, and dough ornaments. This is what memories are made of.

    A very Merry Christmas to you both! Xoxo

  18. Deborah Hardman says

    Hi Matt & Betsy,

    I grow up having the fresh cut tree, and the smell was amazing. Then over the years I thought purchasing fake was best cause in the long run I would be saving money(since I purchased it from Goodwill). Now I would prefer a fresh cut one, just like I would rather have a real fireplace. But down sizing to live in an RV or live aboard boat. Need to research out how to with very small spaces to enjoy these special traditions. Merry Christmas to you both.

    From The Hardman’s 🙂

  19. Diane says

    I am for fake tree all the way! It’s so much easier and cleaner. Real trees come in the house with natural mold on them, and by the time you get rid of it, the mold level in your house is through the roof. No wonder so many get sick! I store my artificial tree in Rubbermaid containers and take it outside and shake any dust off of it, every year. I have allergies and so does my 3-year old, so for us it’s either an artificial tree, or no tree at all.