Boxers or briefs? Yankees or Red Sox? Cream or sugar? These are some of the most important choices in life. And, to that, I would add this one: real or fake?
I’m not talking about surgical implants, but another type of “fake” that you can easily spot whenever you see it (and especially when you feel it): artificial Christmas trees. My husband and I bought our faux tree the first year we were married – our landlord at the time had a strict “no-real-tree” policy; he said they were fire hazards, just like the charcoal grill I bought my hubby as a wedding present – and have used it ever since. It’s incredibly simple; our 7 1/2-foot tall faux Fraser Fir is pre-lit, meaning my husband’s never had to curse at tangled strings of light. We bought it for $99 back in 2005; this year marks its eighth Christmas with our family.
As devoted as I am to our artificial tree, however, I still get a pang of guilt every time I drive by roadside stand selling the real deal. They’re omnipresent in our area – our state is one of the nation’s biggest produces of Christmas trees – and I drive by no fewer than three of them simply dropping my daughter off at preschool each morning.
When I see the sign, advertising the trees for anywhere from $20 to $50, my first emotion is self-satisfaction. Even if we’d stuck to a Charlie Brown-style tree year after year, we’d still have spent $160 on Christmas trees over the past eight years, compared to the one-time cost of $99 to purchase our artificial one. I like saving money and, fire hazard or not, that was probably the biggest reason we’ve gone fake and will likely never go back.
Then I start thinking about the men and women who grow those trees – for whom those trees represent a hearty portion of their livelihood. According to an industry website, my state produces 19 percent of all real Christmas trees in the U.S., making us the nation’s second largest grower. In 2009, my state’s Christmas tree growers made $100 million. But there’s a problem.
2002 Census figures show there were more than 1,500 Christmas tree farmers in my state; but just five years later, that number had dropped to 1,200 operations. And while the number of acres farmed and trees sold during that time increased in my state, that’s far from the national trend.
Between 2002 and 2007 on a national scale, the number of acres farmed for Christmas trees dropped by nearly a quarter; the number of trees sold was down as well, from 20 million in 2002 to just 17 million five years later.
As someone who bought a fake Christmas tree during that period of time, I can make an educated guess at what’s driving those statistics.
Since the start of the recession, the sale of real trees compared to fake ones has rebounded; maybe it’s because the average cost per tree is nearly double for a faux Christmas tree than for a real one. With families scrimping to save every penny, I’m sure it was easier for most families to buy an inexpensive real tree, even if it meant they’d have to toss it on the curbside come January and buy another one the very next year.
And that leads me to wonder – what will happen to all the unsold, pre-cut Christmas trees I pass on a daily basis? Will they become mulch? Fodder for a winter bonfire? For, while I know the fate of unsold fake trees – they go back into a warehouse, where they’ll be stored until the next fall – it stinks to know that a live tree is now dead, without ever having ornaments or lights hung from its branches.
Reader, do you have a real Christmas tree or an artificial one? Why’d you make your choice?