The Tree Debate Continues

By Diane Schlindwein

September 4, 2009 5 min read

Almost as soon as the holiday season arrives, it seems one topic is sure to come up in conversation. In fact, the decades-old debate goes on in homes all across the country. No, the question is not what to buy for Christmas; it's whether the tree under which those gifts are placed should be real or artificial.

Real or not, we Americans love our Christmas trees. In fact, recent reports from the National Christmas Tree Association show that in 2007, 31.3 million real Christmas trees were purchased -- along with 17.4 million artificial trees, which most likely will be used for at least several years.

"Artificial trees are convenient because they last longer, don't shed and don't need to be watered," says Thomas Harman, the founder and CEO of Balsam Hill, which makes artificial trees. "All these benefits mean you can travel during the holiday season without worrying about the Christmas d?cor at home."

Harman explains that his wife's family didn't celebrate the holiday with a real tree because of his brother-in-law's allergies. After seeing countless unrealistic artificial trees, including the one his wife's family displayed, Harman was inspired to create a line of premium-quality Christmas trees that closely mirror their live counterparts.

Harman says his company has developed True Needle technology, which allows it to create trees that resemble real varieties, with precise needle designs that are colored to mimic the patterns of live trees. "The final products so closely replicate real trees that shoppers have been spotted sniffing the branches," he says.

Harman says the majority of Balsam Hill's trees are pre-lit artificial Christmas trees, which have become increasingly popular during the past few years. "Balsam Hill professionally strings the lights from the inside (near the trunk) of the tree out to the tips of the branches and attaches the wires on the underneath of the branch," he says. "This allows us to get twice as many lights on the tree while hiding the cords. You could do this yourself, but you would want to get started right after Halloween since it takes so long. This technique produces a more beautiful effect than the standard wrapping of lights around a tree, which makes it look more like a tree was mummified with light strings."

For some folks, however, only a fresh, real Christmas tree will do. "People choose to use a farm-grown Christmas tree as their holiday centerpiece for different reasons," says Rick Dungey, public relations manager for the National Christmas Tree Association. "For many, the tradition is very important to them. Going out as a family and selecting a special tree each year is what gives them a great feeling and creates fond memories. For many others, the aroma of a fresh, farm-grown tree makes them 'feel' like it's Christmastime. For a growing number of people, it's important to make a good eco-choice in more and more aspects of their life." For those people, choosing a natural, renewable, recyclable plant grown on a farm as a sustainable crop is a good choice for the environment, he adds.

Real trees, which can be any of more than 35 different species of conifer planted and grown in North America, can last in a home for three to five weeks. "Generally, if properly cared for, any tree can stay green and fragrant and pliable throughout the holiday season," Dungey says. "We recommend people follow our care tips (, which are based on controlled scientific studies."

Although Harman and Dungey never will have to agree on what tree is best, couples and families obviously have to make a decision. For some, it's better to do what long-married couple Bruce and Cathy Locher decided on years ago. "We always have two trees -- one real and one artificial," Cathy says.

"We use the artificial one in the living room, with a more formal theme," she explains. "Then we have a real one in the family room, where we hang the less formal ornaments and the ornaments the kids made when they were young."

The Lochers, who have three grown children and one grandson, also have two basset hounds and a beagle that seem to enjoy the fresh tree, as well. "We all like the smell of a fresh tree, but I only use it in the room with hardwood floors because I swear those needles multiply," Cathy says. "The artificial one goes in the carpeted area. I'm not one who wants to be vacuuming up Christmas tree needles in July."

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