Real or artificial? The great Christmas tree debate

Amanda Davies with some of artifical Christmas trees in John Lewis
Amanda Davies with some of artifical Christmas trees in John Lewis
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BRINGING home and decorating a tree is a time-honoured traditions when it comes to getting ready for Christmas. But sure as the festive season comes but once a year, so does the big decision of whether to buy a real or artificial tree.

For many there is no question – they are as opposite entities as chalk and cheese.

Amanda Davies with some of artifical Christmas trees in John Lewis

Amanda Davies with some of artifical Christmas trees in John Lewis

Lovers of the pine-scented smell you can only get from a Norway spruce or Scotch pine would argue a real tree is as important as the presents under for kids on Christmas morning.

Others would contest the needles are just a painful and messy nuisance you don’t have to endure because the latest artificial trees mean they can be just as impressive as “the real thing”.

But despite this, a recent survey shows there has been a spike in sales of the living variety, with more than half of people opting to buy authentic originals for their homes or businesses.

So which is better? As you might expect when it comes to price, there can be a big difference between the cost of a real tree and a high-quality artificial one, although since the more expensive artificial variety will last for several years rather than just one the real difference is hard to quantify.

Gary McIntosh, of Canonmills Christmas Trees, which has outlets on Broughton Road and Newington, said more people were opting for real trees now, and added that he expected to shift 1000 trees over the festive period.

“Real trees are important because of the tradition, it’s what makes Christmas Christmas,” he says.

“It’s the traditional element of going to choose the tree and taking it home, that’s what makes it a special pastime for families. I’ve never had a fake one and I never will, they’re not the same.”

The landscape gardener said the 7ft Nordmann fir had been the most sought after specimen so far this year, outperforming the Fraser fir and Scots pine.

Other tree sellers reported an increase when it came to the larger trees with sales of 8, 9 and 10ft trees enjoying a resurgence. Clement Wilson, of Green Fir Christmas, Edinburgh, said people had been opting to buy smaller trees over the last few years but the green shoots of recovery were sprouting for their larger siblings.

“We’ve been a bit surprised that the big trees have been returning the same numbers as they used to. Edinburgh is very good for this because so many people are in houses where the ceilings are high.

“Our most popular tree is still the 6ft tree. I think the main reason we are seeing an increase is because more and more people are comfortable with buying their trees online. We’re probably up 20 per cent on last year.”

Malap Singh Gold, of Christmas Trees Direct, which has been supplying live trees to local primary schools, hotels and bed and breakfasts, says he believes many were turning their backs on artificial trees because of the potential fire risk.

“A lot of the artificial trees are coming from China and there are some concerns with them being a fire hazard,” he said. “There is still a fire risk with traditional trees as well but not as much.”

He said there were good quality artificial alternatives to be had but nothing could replicate the aroma you got from a live tree.

“The kids absolutely love it when they have a real one turn up at the house. The smell is the most traditional Christmas feeling that you get from coming to a nice, warm house with a real Christmas tree in it. The ambience is overwhelming.”

Every real tree is different and subsequently the size and shape can never be guaranteed. So apart from not shedding pine needles everywhere, one of the big benefits of buying a ready-made tree is that it looks perfect and you know exactly what you are getting to fill the same space year after year.

The re-usable element means that even the most high-end trees can be considered good value for money so long as you use them a few times.

Tracy McKay, Christmas shop expert at John Lewis Edinburgh, said you could have all the benefits of a life-like tree, minus the mess and stress. She says: “The main advantages of having an artificial tree are they’re hassle-free and good value for money over the long term. Many of our artificial trees come pre-lit which saves time and means you don’t have to buy lights separately.

“Recently, the contemporary trees have been very popular, with the snowy paper tree being a top seller for the last two years.

“They appeal to those looking for a minimal look, perfect for first-time buyers and those looking to spruce up an area of their home with a festive touch.”

Karen Macdonald, store manager of Jenners, says one of the many advantages of artificial trees was the variety on offer. Trees can be picked to match a colour scheme or theme for the less traditional out there. “Artificial trees are a quick and easy alternative to a real Christmas tree and are long lasting, so provide excellent value for money. They also come in a wide range of shades, so you don’t necessarily have to opt for a traditional look. At House of Fraser we sell black, gold tipped trees by Pied a Terre, or a snow white tree from the Linea modern Romance range.”

Writer and broadcaster Roddy Martine said that while his childhood Christmas memories were of a real tree, he has recently opted for the fake variety.

“As a child I loved the smell of a real Christmas tree, and the sense of excitement when we, as a family, decorated it on Christmas Eve,” he says. “Of course, the real secret of a good Christmas tree is the decorations. I have both inherited and accumulated decorations; china hanging angels, small Koala bears from a visit to Australia, robins and white doves, sparkling balls and loads of beads and tinsel to the extent that once you have got the lights on, you don’t really need a tree underneath as they cover everything.

“That is why, I have to confess, I have a fake tree which I purchased ten years ago and have used ever since. It folds up and goes into a cupboard when I take it down on Twelfth Night and the funny thing is that nobody has ever noticed that it isn’t the real McCoy. Or at least they must have been far too polite to tell me.”

Real or fake, it’s time to dust off the decorations and start trimming.


Price Comparison Real Trees

(price based on 6ft tree)

Nordmann fir £35-£45

Britain’s most popular tree, these are known for their excellent needle retention and soft foliage. Need plenty of water to keep them fresh for a long time.

Norway spruce £25-£35

A good tree that’s easy to decorate but prone to dropping its short, sharp needles. Regular watering should help.

Scotch pine £25-£35

This is a popular choice in Edinburgh, despite its bushy shape making it a bit tricky to decorate. It has a strong pine smell.

Best for an unusual bushy shape

Fraser fir £30-£45

Growing in popularity, it shares similar features to the Nordmann with good, strong branches and fine needle retention. It copes well with being replanted if bought with roots still intact.

Artificial Trees

(price based on 6ft tree)


Windsor Fir Christmas Tree £25

Frosted Pre-lit Christmas

Tree with 300 lights £143.98

John Lewis

Fireside Christmas Tree £80

Louise Fir Christmas Tree £150

House of Fraser

Linea Green Pencil Tree £25

White Flocked Tree £75