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Homesteading and Livestock

Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.

The Great Christmas Tree Debate

(Guest Post by Michelle Mather)

Recently a friend of mine expressed surprise when I told her that we have a fake Christmas tree. I think she figured that given our usual "environmental" bent, we wouldn't dream of buying a fake tree made of plastic and metal when the option is something real and made of renewable wood.

"The Great Christmas Tree Debate" was an ongoing discussion in our home about 20 years ago when our daughters were very young (they are 25 and 23 now.) When Cam and I first made a home together, we were in a small apartment and we usually spent most of the Christmas holiday season at his parents' cottage or my parents' home. It didn't make sense to decorate a big tree back then and so we either decorated our Norfolk Island Pine houseplant or we used a small "fake" tree. After our girls joined our family, we eventually began to stay put for our Christmas celebration, and as they got old enough to take part in traditional Christmas activities, we started heading out to a Christmas tree farm and cutting our own tree. We drank hot chocolate and ate potato chips as part of our annual tradition and after enjoying the tree for as long as possible in our home, Cam always made good use out of it, adding the branches to our compost and cutting up the trunk to burn in our fireplace.

We felt a little guilty about cutting down a tree every year and so we began debating whether or not a real or fake tree was the better choice from an environmental perspective.

The debate went on for a few years with no clear winner until finally one year we decided that we couldn't justify killing a tree every year. That year I headed out to the mall on Boxing Day (December 26th) to take advantage of the half-price sales on fake Christmas trees. I found a beautiful tree that had been $149 and I paid $75 for it. At the time a real tree was costing us about $15/year or so, and so I figured that my investment of $75 would be paid off after about 5 years of use.

That was about 18 years ago. Every year we unpack our fake tree, set it up and unfold the branches and arrange them to look as natural as possible. I have just the right number of ornaments to fit our tree and I know that I can make one side flat enough to push it up against the wall, since our ongoing accumulation of books (and bookshelves!) hasn't left much room for our annual tree.

Now that we live in the country and have 150 acres of trees to choose from, you might think that we would have returned to using a real tree in our home. We actually did so one year when Cam came in from the woods one early December day and announced that he was planning on cutting down a small white pine tree since it was in a bad location. He suggested that since he was going to cut it down anyway, he could wait until closer to Christmas and we could use it as our Christmas tree that year.

I agreed, since I miss the smell of a real tree in our home and thought it would be nice to enjoy a real tree again. Needless to say, since the tree hadn't been pruned for use as a Christmas tree, it was pretty spindly and I wasn't able to fit many of our ornaments on it. The wonderful pine scent didn't last very long and I had forgotten how much effort it takes to keep a real tree watered, especially once the base of it was surrounded with gifts and it was difficult to access the tree stand.

Soon after Christmas was over, the needles of the real tree began to drop and so it was time to undecorate it and get it out of the house. As I removed the few ornaments I realized that many of them had tree sap on them and so I had to clean them off as I removed them from the tree. Yuck! Our experience that year reminded me of all of the benefits of our fake tree.

Not to say that we haven't had "issues" with our fake tree from time to time. One year Cam decided that the woodshed, where he had been storing our fake tree, was getting too crowded and so he decided to store our fake tree up in the rafters of the horse barn. We had a horse and a donkey using the horse barn that year, but he was able to tuck the tree up high where they couldn't reach it.

That Christmas he dragged the big box in and unpacked the tree. I performed my usual task of unfolding the branches and arranging them nicely. As the tree warmed up in the heat of the house, I began to notice an unusual aroma emanating from it. Apparently Cam hadn't given any thought to the smell of manure that the tree had been exposed to. Needless to say, we burned a lot of scented candles that year in our efforts to mask the smell of our "horsey" tree!

Cam went back to storing the tree in our woodshed. One year as I unpacked the tree and arranged the branches I came across a "nest" that a mouse had made with pink insulation that was tucked in the middle of the tree. I very carefully disassembled the nest, expecting a mouse or some babies to jump out at me at any moment, but luckily I don't think that the mouse ever finished this nest and there was no sign that it had ever been inhabited.

After all of these years of the Great Christmas Tree Debate, I don't believe that we have come up with a definitive answer yet. One day our fake tree will be old and worn out and it may end up in a landfill. Real trees just decompose naturally and enrich the soil. My only advice is that if you are going to buy a fake tree, be sure to buy a good quality one, that should last for many years. Or perhaps it's time to forget the "real vs. fake" debate and consider a re-usable tree made of birch plywood as seen here; It's very chic but a little pricey.....

For more information about Cam Mather or his books, please visit or