12 reasons to buy a real Christmas tree

Real Christmas trees have a special charm. Photo: Jamila Toderas
Real Christmas trees have a special charm. Photo: Jamila Toderas
Christmas Tree farms, such as this one in the NSW Southern Highlands, are small to medium businesses providing local employment. Photo: Quentin Jones

Christmas Tree farms, such as this one in the NSW Southern Highlands, are small to medium businesses providing local employment. Photo: Quentin Jones

When I was a kid the third most exciting day of the year was the point in mid December when my mum and aunt would finally relent and buy our Christmas tree.

It was topped only by Christmas day itself and my birthday.

Spirits bright, my cousin and I'd skip to the local fruit shop and pick out our tree, then proudly carry it home.

The whole family joined in as we set up the tree in a bucket filled with bricks and adorned it with tinsel, baubles, candy canes and a homemade star at the top. Oh what fun!

The tree gave us pure joy, and 30 years later a real Christmas tree still gets my serotonin flowing.

Last year was our first Christmas in our own home, so we celebrated with the best and biggest tree we could afford. I ordered a six-foot beauty online and had it delivered.

To complement my box of trusty ornaments, I bought Christmas lights for extra bling. Fa la la la la.

I know every family has their own traditions, and I don't want to rain on your parade … but I can't help feeling sad for all the people who grow up with plastic trees. It's just not the same.

And while not everyone celebrates Christmas, for those of us who do, there are also economic and environmental arguments that tip the balance in favour of a real tree.

Here are 12 reasons to buy a natural Christmas tree rather than a fake one.

12. Romance

There's something infinitely romantic about partaking in a cultural tradition that dates back to the 16th century. Assembling an artificial tree can only ever be a pale imitation.

11. Scent

Real trees have a beautiful pine scent. It's the best, especially when intermingled with the aroma of Christmas baking.

10. No mess

The idea that real trees shed pine needles constantly is a myth, or at least this can be avoided. Last year I invested $40 in a special stand that holds water. We bought the tree at the beginning of December and it was still green and barely shedding by January 6 (which is of course the twelfth day of Christmas and the traditional day to take the tree down). Just don't get the kids to water the tree, unless you want to risk damp presents.

9. No storage

If you buy a fake tree, you have to have somewhere to store it throughout the year. I don't know about you, but my house is small and I already have enough things that get only occasional use.

Note, this is also a problem if you buy a real tree in a pot, both in the short term but also longer term when it outgrows the pot. One of my friends has a giant Norfolk pine in the garden of her childhood home that served as a Christmas tree for a few years in the 1980s.

8. Easy, ethical disposal

I'm always puzzled when I see abandoned Christmas trees on the streets in January. Almost every council in Australia will collect Christmas trees for free and either mulch or compost them. Sometimes it's a special Christmas tree collection, or else you can book it as an extra green waste collection.

7. Family day out

Visiting a Christmas tree farm is even more exciting than an outing to the fruit shop, if that's possible. Not only can you pick your tree, but you might get to see real reindeer and visit Santa without the queues at the shops.

6. Good cause

My children started kindergarten this year and I was delighted to discover the school P&C was selling Christmas trees as a fundraiser.  Scout troops and churches often sell Christmas trees to raise funds as well. You need to be organised – orders closed for my school fundraiser last week.

5. Local economy

Christmas tree farms are small to medium businesses that employ local people. Artificial trees are usually made in China and sold by big chains.

4. More trees

Some people don't like buying a natural tree because they don't want to kill a tree (probably the same people who object to cut flowers). Brad Gray, the head of campaigns at Planet Ark, says this is illogical. "I've heard people say they don't think trees should be cut down but essentially the tree is in existence for that purpose," Gray says. "It's a good process as long as you mulch or compost it at the end." Since pine trees are not native, all Christmas trees in Australia are grown on farms. The land would otherwise be used for another purpose such as farming or housing so if you buy a natural tree you're giving the landowner a market incentive to grow trees and sequester carbon.

3. Carbon neutral

Gray says if a natural tree is grown locally and mulched or composted after use, it's carbon neutral. If the real tree goes to landfill, it releases methane (just like your food scraps). Even then it could still beat the plastic tree, according to independently reviewed research by sustainable development consultancy Ellipsos in Canada.

2. Avoiding plastic nasties

We don't need any more plastic crap in the world. Artificial trees are usually made of plastic and perhaps steel and lead. They consume energy and resources in production and shipping and wind up in landfill. You would need to reuse an artificial tree for 20 years before it would be as sustainable as a natural tree, the Ellipsos study concludes. "The reality is people don't buy their trees to last 20 years, they don't even buy their televisions to last that long," says Planet Ark's Gray.

1. Cost competitive

My tree will do all these good things for an outlay of $65. Sure, you can buy cheaper fake trees, but they're not made to last. A premium artificial tree will cost a lot more – up to $299 at David Jones. If you buy one, you'll only start to make savings compared to me in the fifth year. In the mean time, you'll have to store the tree, and keep it in good repair and free from dust. Is it worth the commitment?

Caitlin Fitzsimmons is the Money editor for the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age. You can follow her on Facebook or Twitter.

This story 12 reasons to buy a real Christmas tree first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.