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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?

Despite drought conditions in many parts of the country, there doesn't seem to be any significant effect on this year's availability or prices for trees, although some shortages have been reported in areas of eastern New York State. Notably, it takes six or seven years for an evergreen to grow to normal tree height, and this past summer's droughts may affect supplies a few years out. While some price hikes might have been expected due to increased fuel and shipping costs, prices so far this year appear to be unchanged from 2006 -- at least partially because North Carolina has produced a bumper crop and fewer trees are being imported from Canada.

Pros and cons of artificial Christmas trees:
Pros Cons
Faster, easier to set up.
Requires little care.
No time wasted shopping and hauling.
Cheaper when calculated over life span.
Don't affect people with allergies.
Symmetrical, easier to decorate.
Most are pre-lit.
Available in many colors.
Most fold easily for storage.
Inexpensive versions look fake.
Takes up valuable storage space.
Generates no fragrance.
No variation from year to year.
Lighting strings may burn out in 4-5 years.

Artificial trees may be gaining popularity, but live trees are a big business, with prices ranging from $20 to thousands of dollars per tree. In 2006, the National Christmas Tree Association, or NCTA, reported that 28.6 million live trees were purchased across the country at a mean purchase price of $40.50, totaling $631 million. In comparison, 9.3 million artificial trees were purchased at a mean price of $68. While the numbers of homes purchasing real trees has remained fairly steady between 2001 and 2006, there has been a slight increase in the purchase of artificial trees since 2003.

NCTA president Beth Walterscheidt says that many people are attracted to live trees by their natural presence and smell. Live trees can be found at farms, lots and retail outlets across the country. Types and sizes depend on the region, but most lots carry variations of pines, spruces and firs. Walterscheidt says that the size of the space for the tree, the height of the ceiling and individual tastes should all be taken into consideration when selecting a live tree. While detractors often say that live trees are trouble, Walterscheidt says that most require minimal care and simple watering.

"Trees can generally last from four to six weeks very easily if you take the right steps to care for it. Keep it in water, keep it away from a heat source and away from a window that might put direct sunlight on it," says Walterscheidt.

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