Oh (Real) Christmas Tree

christmas tree enviro-mama real tree fake tree debateWhen Hannah was really little – I think it was Christmas 2005 – we bought an artificial Christmas tree. (In fact, I know it was Christmas 2005 because I am a blogger and I have photographic evidence.) I was less-than-thrilled about the purchase at the time. I’d always had real trees when I was growing up, and I loved the ritual of going to buy the tree, and the way it made my house smell fabulous. However, my husband preferred artificial trees, and it seemed a sensible way to go when I already had a baby making a big mess in my house. I certainly didn’t need a whole bunch of pine needles on the carpet on top of the toys that were already scattered everywhere.

At the time I insisted on buying a nice artificial tree, and reasoned that it would end up being much cheaper in the long run. I also thought that it would be a more environmentally-friendly choice to buy a reusable tree rather than to buy a cut tree each and every year. However, two things happened last year that made me re-examine my choice.

The first thing that caused me to re-think my tree choice was this article from David Suzuki’s Queen of Green. The summary is that an artificial tree’s environmental footprint is about three times higher than a real tree’s environmental footprint, if your artificial tree lasts six years (which is apparently about average). The pendulum starts to swing in the direction of the fake tree at around the 20 year mark, or in situations where your real tree comes from very far away. This isn’t the case where I live, as Christmas tree farms are everywhere in British Columbia.

There are other concerns about fake trees. too. They’re typically made of PVC. It’s not the friendliest chemical, and it can contain lead. In fact, there are many stories involving lead contamination from artificial trees. While lead is becoming less and less common in recent years, back in 2005 when we bought our tree there was less awareness, and one presumes, more lead was used. Since my tree doesn’t say anything about being lead-free, it’s probably safe to assume that it’s not.

Ultimately, though, it’s not just the environment that swayed me. The second big thing that caused me to re-think my tree choice was taking the tree out of storage last year. I pulled the box out of the crawlspace under our house, and put it up. It smelled dusty and musty, and after I put it up my house smelled dusty and musty, too. Instead of leaving me feeling festive, decorating the tree left me feeling kind of sad. I could follow everyone’s favourite piece of advice and hang up a pine-scented air freshener, but in the first place those air fresheners smell nothing like a real tree, and in the second place adding a whole lot of artificial fragrance to my home would only increase the number of chemicals already floating around. Ew.

The desire for a real tree led my family to the local tree lot in mid-December this year, where we chose a Douglas Fir. Yes, it shed needles. Yes, getting it home and into the stand was kind of a pain. Yes, I had to water it. Yes, there was inconvenience involved. However, it really did smell fantastic, and my kids enjoyed the process of picking it out. Once it was up, it really felt like Christmas, and I was happy about my tree instead of depressed by it.

I am returning to my real tree roots – and I feel good about that. The fact that I still felt good when I took the tree down today and vacuumed up the needles that littered the floor is confirmation that I’m making the right choice for myself. A little mess is a small price to pay for a merrier, greener, holiday season.

What about you, do you have a real tree or an artificial tree? And does it surprise you to learn how much greener real trees are?

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  1. Laura Mom says:

    I have gone to a table top artificial tree. I live in a suite & rearranging to try to fit in a bigger tree was frustrating me. I did try going without a tree but that really didn’t feel like Christmas. So this works for me but I really loved your tree & how it made the house smell. It really does smell like Christmas.

  2. This doesn’t really surprise me – After all, trees are obviously renewable. That dusty musty-ness would make me sad too. I love the smell of a real tree, and they are everywhere here in Oregon too. (I think the fake tree thing is a guy thing – I’m pretty sure my husband has mentioned it once a year. For me, it HAS to be a real tree. I like to decorate with real sprigs and branches as well.)

  3. Real tree, always. And if trees are disposed of properly, NYC composts them. Or the city will turn it to mulch for you.
    Rachael’s last post … What Christmas Is All AboutMy Profile

  4. Ha, thanks for this! My husband has been nudging me about getting an artificial tree, and I have been resisting (this blog post will be good ammo not to do it). We did a real tree this year, as we have always done. Love them so.

  5. jencloss

    Real tree, 100%. For me, the tree is the masterpiece of all the Christmas decorating and the scent, the look and the whole routine of going and picking it out scream Christmas and get the whole magical momentum of the holidays going. I’m a tree snob, I’ll admit it. Fake trees are cheesy and gaudy. There, I said it. We had a tree in a pot for a number of years until one hot summer where we didn’t water it enough. This year we had an 8′ Fraser Fir from a local nursery and it was GORGEOUS. Barely dropped any needles and had beautiful, sturdy branches for even the heaviest ornaments.

  6. I always had a real tree growing up and I miss it. Having a husband who had some pretty serious allergies had meant my trees will always been fake.
    Heather’s last post … Looking ForwardMy Profile

    • I know other people who also have to go fake because of allergies. It’s totally understandable, of course, but I hope you get to smell a real tree every now and again all the same.

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