Spurred by the rise in Christmas tree prices, this may be the year that many families end years of arguments and buy a fake.
Sure, that fresh-pine scent may not fill the living room, but from a practical standpoint, families are finding it makes sense. They won’t have to worry about keeping the tree watered, about having to sweep up needles or that the tree might go up in flames in the middle of the night.
Plus, the appearance of fake trees has improved dramatically in recent years.
Mary Arraf, a mother of two, is making the leap. The 37-year-old automotive manager from Macomb, Mich., said safety and having to regularly clean up the mess were factors in her decision. The family spent $70 for a 7.5-footer, which she said was what they had planned to spend on a live tree.
“We got a regular green one, so it looks like a tree,” she said. “We put our own lights on it, too, to make it look like we did the work.”
She’s not nostalgic at all. “I don’t love the scent,” she said, adding: “There are sprays now. If my husband is really crying over it, we can get that.”
Arraf will be in good company. Of the estimated 95 million American households with Christmas trees this year, 81% will display fake ones, according to an American Christmas Tree Association survey conducted by Nielsen.
The cost of buying a cut tree is 5% to 10% higher this year than last, says the trade group that represents growers, the National Christmas Tree Association. The shortage of seven- and eight-footers, the most popular size with families, is due to fewer trees that were planted during the recession a decade ago.
For those who have made the fateful decision to go fake, here are five points to ponder when shopping for an artificial tree:
Save some green over the long run
A fake tree can last, basically, forever. The branches are usually made from green plastic, often polyvinyl chloride, the same stuff used for PVC piping in houses. So even though it may cost more initially, fake trees are cheaper in the long run. The challenge may come in finding a place to store it during the 11 months of the year that it’s not the holiday season.
Think big picture
This tree will be with you for a while, so make sure it’s what you want. Consider what height works best for your living space and decide whether you want one that comes already decked out with lights. Some trees have a music option too. Buyers will have to ask themselves how many seasons will they be able to tolerate its merry tunes.
Cut some of the stress
Gone are the days of hunting for the perfect specimen and working out the logistics of getting the big fir or pine home. The maintenance — keeping the tree watered and picking up fallen needles — may be gone but you’ll still face the ordeal of having to lug the fake tree down from the attic or out from the back of the garage and blow off the dust each holiday season.
Rest easier — but still watch for hazards
Artificial trees eliminate the “Is tonight the night the tree catches fire?” fear. Between 2011 and 2015, fire departments in the United States responded to an estimated yearly average of 200 home-structure fires that began with Christmas trees, reports the National Fire Protection Association. These blazes result in an average of six deaths, 16 injuries and $14.8 million in damages annually.
Remember, though, artificial trees can burn, too — just not as easily as a dried-out real one. Electrical cords can’t be allowed to fray over the years.
Say goodbye to the old tradition — and in with the new
This is the biggie: People wax poetically about the live-tree smell and the authentic, back-to-nature vibe a cut tree gives. For real-tree devotees, PVC is for quitters.
Artificial tree advocates would point out family-heirloom ornaments can be hung on artificial branches as easily as on ones Mother Nature formed. And get a tree-scented air freshener, if you need to.
After awhile, maybe you’ll forget that the tree in the living room is a fake. Or maybe not.