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. ME says

    We had real tree’s growing up but I have fake trees now. I pulled one out of a dumpster that did not have a top. We found a nice big angel at the local thrift store and no one knew the difference. I gave that one away when I moved and found some from local yard sales for under $5 each. I figure they would end up in the landfill anyway so why not rescue them. I hardly ever buy anything new so they were already bought by someone else. I used to live in the forest and there were many Christmas tree farms around where I was. In my view they cleared perfectly good forest to put a fence around it and grow trees. It really makes no sense to me especially when you can go by your local thrift store or yard sale and get a fake one for super cheap that will last for the rest of your life.

  2. Rodney & Donna says

    Thanks to your article we have changed our family tradition into something we look forward to every year. We took your advice, I have lived in Lansing for almost 35 years and had no idea there was a Christmas tree farm like the one we went to called Tannenbaum Farms. We didn’t have time for homemade hot chocolate, but did stop and buy some on the way there. The kids had a blast running around looking the perfect Christmas tree. Our oldest boy used the provided handsaw and cart to cut it down and haul it back to the barn. My wife and I enjoyed the relaxing time of walking through the trees and playing with the kids. Next year we plan to make the choco at home! Thanks

    • Betsy Jabs says

      Yay!!! Tannenbaum Farms was our absolute favorite…we were just a few miles away from them when we lived there! We’re so glad you’ll be making this into a yearly tradition…such a fun outing to look forward to. Matt felt like we got jipped this year because the NC tree farm actually cut the tree for us once we picked it out, and he is used to being able to use his manly skills to cut it himself. 🙂

  3. Morningstar says

    I live in central Florida, so I am lucky enough to be able to plant trees whenever I want. So this year I have started a new family tradition: fruit trees in place of traditional Christmas trees. This year I’m using an orange tree. After Christmas I can plant it in the yard and over time I will have a whole orchard. I also love the looks on people’s faces when they see my tree.

  4. Bridget says

    Thanks for this! Love the post. I am an adamant real tree advocate as well. I know this is not technically recycling, but at least it is not a landfill and it is a very fun tradition. Every year in January we have a big party at our house and invite our friends to bring their dried out real Christmas trees as well and we have a giant bonfire. Dried out pines can really burn! It is very fun and a fond childhood (or adult!) memory for everyone involved.

  5. Brenda says

    While I appreciate the thought, what are you supposed to use if you are highly allergic to conifers? I can’t be in the same room with pine/cedar/etc or else my entire face starts swelling and I get to the point I can’t see because of it. I currently have no choice but an artificial tree, no matter how much better they look are are for the environment.

    • Betsy Jabs says

      My apologies Brenda… a huge oversight on my part while writing this article! I never realized how many people were allergic to conifers. I definitely recommend doing what you have to do to stay healthy!

  6. Emily @ HolisticSquid says

    Great post! I was considering getting a fake tree this year – What WAS I thinking? Freshie for us from now on. Thanks!

  7. Julia Shultz says

    I LOVE real Christmas trees! When my German immigrant parents first came to the US they continued to use real candles on the tree as is customary. I’ll never forget how beautiful that was! Thank you for encouraging the purchase of a real tree ~ I agree, it’s worth it!