Laura is a freelance writer living in Florida. She has a Master's degree in English.
Every year after the Halloween candy is eaten, and thoughts turn to Thanksgiving and Christmas, the question arises: When are we going to decorate for Christmas? What kind of tree are we getting this year?
For some families, decorating the Christmas tree involves pulling out an artificial tree and fluffing the branches or putting them in the correct sequence around a pole. For others, it just wouldn't be Christmas without the annual tradition of going to pick out a tree in the lot or cutting one themselves. The smell of pine evokes Christmas memories and traditions.
So, which is better: a fake tree or a real tree? The right answer lies in your own family's needs.
The Case for a Real Christmas Tree
For many, part of the tradition of Christmas is picking out a tree to decorate. Whether your chop your own or get one from a tree lot, the challenge of finding the right tree to fit your space and that will work with your budget and your decorations are part of the fun.
Each year the tree is unique—some are better than others. Some shed less, and some shed more. But nothing is nicer than being greeted with that fresh, evergreen smell when you are celebrating the season with family and friends.
Real Christmas trees are connected to a long history of evergreen use to mark the season. The trees are beautiful and bring a bit of life to the indoors. With the right care, they will last the entire season and can then be composted for use in the spring—a true circle of life and usage without waste.
Real Christmas Tree Pros and Cons
May cause allergy issues
Can be recycled
Bigger environmental impact
The Case for a Fake Christmas Tree
But not so fast. There are some great things about fake Christmas trees as well. One big plus is that many come prelit—no more spending hours trying to untangle the lights from last year before putting them on the tree.
Artificial trees are more economical as well. You can easily invest around $150 and have a tree that will last a minimum of five years and possibly much longer. Real trees usually run, at a minimum, $60—so the out-of-pocket expense, in the long run, is much greater.
There is also less to clean up because they don't drop as many needles and less environmental impact considering the use of resources to grow the real trees and transport them to their locations.
Finally, artificial trees are good for homes where occupants may suffer from allergies. For some, a real tree in the house means weeks of sneezing and suffering.
Fake Christmas Tree Pros and Cons
Can get dusty
Can come prelit
Won't cause allergy issues
No great smell
Can use for many years
Can't be recycled
Where Did the Tradition of Decorating a Christmas Tree Come From?
According to the History Channel, the tradition of decorating with evergreen material can be traced back to the Roman celebration of Saturnalia. The Romans marked the solstice and the fruitfulness of the harvest by cutting evergreen boughs to decorate their home. The greenery reminded them of abundance.
But the ancient Romans weren't the only ones to have a fixation with evergreens. Druids and even Vikings also had a fascination with the evergreen and its representation of life.
The 16th Century German Christians are credited with the more modern understanding of the Christmas Tree. There is even a story of Martin Luther trying to capture the brilliance of the stars by bringing an evergreen into the house and putting candles on it—possibly the first lighted Christmas tree.
Christmas Trees Come to America
Germans brought the Christmas tree tradition with them when they immigrated to America. But even though the German tradition had Christian roots, many Americans would not accept the Christmas trees because they saw them as a pagan symbol.
In the United States, it took until almost the 20th century for Christmas trees to catch on. However, in Great Britain, they were popular about 40 years earlier, thanks to Queen Victoria capturing the tradition in an official family drawing that was then published in a popular ladies' magazine.
Now the Christmas tree can be found in many countries all over the world. It has moved from handmade decorations, fruits, berries, and popcorn strings to elaborate ornament themes. Hallmark has built much of its reputation around the tradition of limited-release ornament collections.
Obviously, the earliest trees were made from real evergreens, but in the modern world, there is a choice. While you will find families who are firmly in one camp or another, there are surprising benefits and problems with either choice, as we discussed above.
The Memories Made Around the Tree Are the Important Part
The debate about artificial Christmas trees vs. real ones is likely to be one that will never be resolved. Each family must figure out for themselves what is important about their decorating traditions and what truly works with the needs of their family.
Real or fake—the memories made while gathered around the Christmas tree during the holiday season are special.
The Christmas tree is one of the most recognizable Christmas traditions in the entire world.
Tori Leumas on July 05, 2015:
My family has always preferred real trees. The scent and look of the tree makes the house really feel like Christmas. We do have to vacuum frequently to keep the needles to a minimum, but the positives to having a real tree out weigh the negatives for us. Great hub!
Elias Zanetti from Athens, Greece on November 09, 2013:
Interesting hub and history of the Christmas tree. personally I always prefer artificial trees and so far they suit me just fine.
L C David (author) from Florida on November 04, 2013:
Wow. That is expensive. We have found, though, that even the cheaper artificial trees end up being less costly on a per holiday basis than real ones. I had a real tree many years ago and it kicked my allergies into overdrive. I was glad to see it gone. But they do smell great!
ExpectGreatThings from Illinois on November 03, 2013:
My artificial tree didn't survive our basement flooding this year. So we are trying to figure out what to do about a tree for this year. This was an interesting read. The fake trees I've seen for sale around here (that would actually last more than a few years) run about $500. That's a bit steep for us! Thanks for the info! - Ginger