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Special section Thrifty gifting

Aroma, feel and tradition all play a part in this decision, and the comparative cost factor is nothing to sneeze at, either.

Real or artificial (trees) -- what's better?

Real or artificial: What's best for you?

With its modern roots traced back to 16th century Germany, the Christmas tree has become a holiday icon that has been influenced and adapted by various cultures around the world. While early trees were simply cut from neighboring forests, Christmas trees are now part of a billion-dollar industry that includes millions of farm-raised trees as well as traditional and bizarre artificial options.

Artificial trees really didn't come into the scene until the early 1900s and the early models were quite shabby. Sparse branches, a metal rod in the middle and plastic needles created what has often been referred to as the "Charlie Brown look." Nowadays, however, some artificial trees are beautiful works of art that may outdo many of their live sisters. Carrie Chen, vice president of marketing for says today's trees are very realistic.

Pros and cons of real Christmas trees:
Pros Cons
Has a real fragrance.
Each tree is unique.
Tree shopping a fun tradition.
Biodegradable, recyclable.
Purchase helps support U.S. industry.
Cheaper initial purchase.
Requires daily care and watering.
Fire hazard.
Can be messy, especially on carpet.
Can affect people with allergies.
Sometimes difficult to decorate.
Needles can scratch during setup and take down.
Often trunks are not straight.
Often die before season is complete.

"The new technology involves injection molding with a 3-D feel to it. In that process, they're able to dye the inner branches and create different shadings of green on the needles. Artificial trees have come a long way," says Chen.

Many people are drawn to artificial trees because they are easy to set up and maintain. There is no sap, no falling needles, no water to fill and no soaked carpeting or vacuuming to do afterwards. Because artificial trees are manufactured and designed to meet certain specifications, they're perfectly symmetrical. Branches are evenly spaced and can be maneuvered to meet a homeowner's needs. Many artificial trees also come pre-strung with lights and can be set up and lit in little more than 10 minutes.

"Artificial trees are always consistent. If you get a 7½-foot tree, it's always going to be that height. Artificial trees allow you to create the exact look you want. All you have to do is plug it in," says Chen.

Chen says that on average, a high quality 6- to 8-foot artificial tree can go for about $300 and should last approximately 10 years with proper care and storage. Pre-lit artificial trees range from $100 to $500 depending on size.

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