The focal point of modern living rooms during the holiday season is without a doubt the Christmas tree.

It is difficult to imagine the holidays without cherished conifers covered with Christmas decorations. The warm presence of a tree brings to mind nostalgic memories and promises of gifts and treats to be shared with family and friends.

But will you be decorating your home with a real tree or fake tree? Which is better?

Keep reading to learn more about the pros and cons of both.

A Brief History of Christmas Trees

Up until the 19th century, nearly all of the Christmas trees brought into peoples homes for the holidays were natural trees. After experiencing the potential deadly flammability of real trees and the devastating effects of deforestation, German artisans began carving blocks of wood into triangular Christmas tree shapes. Families would decorate these early artificial trees with candles and treats just as they would a real tree.

With the advent of electricity in the 20th century, real trees became safer to have around as families could now adorn their trees with strings of Christmas lights rather than open flame candles.

Aluminum trees made their appearance in the 1950s, followed by the modern artificial Christmas tree made of PVC plastic.

Since 1992, there has been a 30 percent increase in artificial tree purchases in the United States. Fake trees are used in 80 percent of American homes during the holiday season. However, that might be changing. Natural trees have recently seen a surge popularity thanks to environmentally-conscious millennials.

Which is Better For the Environment?

As the effects of climate change weigh heavy on people’s minds, possibly the most important factor in Christmas tree selection today is deciding which option creates the smaller carbon footprint.

Unless they are grown organically, real trees are sprayed with pesticides. Tree farmers sometimes use Roundup for an easy form of weed control. The biggest problem with using chemicals is that the excess runs off into natural water systems and creates a brutally negative environmental impact.

If the trees are grown organically, however, you won’t have to worry about introducing any noxious into the environment. Rising levels of carbon dioxide from emissions pose an inarguable threat to our planet. Thankfully, trees filter out carbon dioxide and pollutants from the air and turn them into oxygen. If that’s not a Christmas Miracle, I don’t know what is!

Deforestation is not a by-product of live tree producers. Christmas trees are planted for the sole purpose of being cut down and sold. It takes seven to 10 years for a tree to reach purchase size, and all that time the trees are filtering air and offering temporary shelter to small animals. When a tree is cut down at a farm, many times the farmer will plant three trees more to take its place.

Artificial Trees

Fake Christmas trees  are typically made of polyvinyl chloride (PVC), and they are largely produced in the Pearl River Delta area of China. China is the world’s leading producer of carbon dioxide and has little environmental regulation.

Non-renewable fossil fuels are used to produce PVC, and as the plastic is produced, greenhouse gases are released into our atmosphere. The plastics contains harmful and sometimes deadly chemicals including phthalates, BPA, cadmium and lead. These dangerous and deadly chemicals can leach out of plastic trees over time, creating a tainted holiday season for you and your loved ones.

Consider another drawback to artificial trees: The planet is in the midst of a recycling crisis, and PVC is seldom recyclable. It takes about 100 years for PVC to decompose.

The American Christmas Tree Association claims that reusing a fake tree for four years or more will create a smaller carbon footprint than getting a natural tree every year. The ACTA is a trade group located in West Hollywood and and is closely associated with a leading producer of artificial Christmas trees.

The Joy of Real Trees

Most real trees are bought pre-cut from stores, but if you are a person who likes to dive into an experience, you should go to your local Christmas tree farm to select and cut down your own live tree.

When you arrive, you will be greeted with the smell of resinous pine, mulled cider, and maybe a sweet and wiggly farm dog will let you scratch its belly. A jolly tree farmer may then hand you a long measuring stick so you can size up the perfect tree for your space. You can go get lost in a field of perfectly groomed Christmas trees as far as you can see.

When you find the right tree, you will then lie down on the ground and go to town on the tree trunk with a hacksaw. After a minute or so of feverish sawing, your chosen tree will fall down into your arms. You can then drag your tree to the front of the farm, where it will get measured, priced, and vigorously shaken to remove loose needles. Compare this experience with the experience of purchasing a fake tree from a big box retail store or on the internet, and it’s apparent which choice contains the spirit of Christmas.

Which is a Better Deal?

Do to a recent boost in popularity of real trees (because millennials), the demand for real trees has surpassed the supply, driving up the average price average for a living tree to $78 this season. If you buy a live tree every year for the rest of your life, that can add up to a wince-inducing amount.

One major argument for pro-artificial crowd is that you only need to buy a fake tree hopefully every 10 years or so. Just keep in mind, the longer you use your fake tree, the more potential there is for harmful toxins to make their way out of the plastic and into your home.

Fake trees can cost anywhere from $50 to $300 depending on what you are looking for. Due to recent trade tariffs on Chinese goods, plastic trees made in China are expected to increase in price next year.

Which Is Easier to Deal With?

Real trees need to be watered frequently or they will dry out. A dried out Christmas tree is a severe fire hazard, and improperly watered trees shed pine needles at a much faster rate than a properly watered tree.

By the time Valentine’s Day comes, you may want to think about get rid of your tree. Some tree farmers offer tree recycling programs in which you can leave your used tree on the curb and they will pick it up. The picked up trees are turned it into mulch to be used for soil amendments for their next batch of trees, completing the circle of life. Certain cities offer the same service, and they may use the chipped up trees for city gardens and parks.

Fake trees need to be stored eleven months out of the year. Most of the plastic trees fold down to be easily packed in the box they came in. They can be placed out of sight in a basement, an attic, in the back of a closet, or the family self-storage unit.

What to Look For When Buying a Real Tree

If you decide to get a live Christmas tree, there a certain things you should look for:

  • A sturdy, thick trunk will ensure a solid foundation for your tree to rest on.
  • Check that your tree has moist needles and limbs that don’t break easily when you bend them. This will ensure that your tree has been adequately watered.
  • Look for full and even coverage of foliage so there are no gaps.
  • Inspect the tree for any signs of rot, mold, or insect infestations.

If the tree you adore does have a bald spot, place your tree so that its embarrassment is facing the wall, your holiday guests will be none the wiser.

Try to buy local and organic trees whenever possible. This will ensure that the tree hasn’t traveled too far as that creates excess emissions that we are trying to avoid in the first place.

What to Look For When Buying an Artificial Tree

When you’re buying an artificial tree, look for a sturdy tree preferably made in a country that has a strict carbon emission policy. If possible, try to find one at a second hand shop and you will lessen your carbon footprint.

Be sure to find out if your tree was made with lead. Even if you tree has a protective coating of paint, lead can leach out of the years. If you buy an aluminum tree, be cautious of hanging electric lights on it. Since aluminum is a great conductor of electricity, you create an environment for potential shock and fire.

Which Christmas Tree is Best?

Whether you choose a natural tree or an artificial tree, the decision is yours. Both have various pros and cons, and some people have strong feelings one way or the other. If the environment is your top concern, a sustainable real tree is the way to go. If your top concern is cost and convenience, an artificial tree might be your best bet.

Jonathan West