Why I Switched to a Real Christmas Tree After 10 Years of Faux

My first real Christmas tree

Kate McKenna

I love Christmas. Every year, I can't wait for it to be socially acceptable for me to start decorating my apartment for the holiday season. I go all-out decorating both of my fireplace mantels (one in the bedroom and one in the living room), and of course, putting my Christmas tree up so it has pride of place next to my bay window.

For the last 10 years, I've had an artificial tree, but this year we opted for real. In a way, it was like going back to my roots.

I grew up going to the Christmas tree farm with my family every year on the first weekend of December. We'd trudge through the snow, trying to spot the perfect tree, then chop it down with our bare hands (or at least, my dad would). Then Dad would strap it to the top of the van, and I'd worry the whole way home that it would meet an unfortunate end by coming loose and falling off, into the middle of road (though that never happened).

Once we got home, Mum would warm up some mince pies, we'd put on Christmas carols, and set about decorating the tree. The smell of evergreens still takes me back to being a kid at Christmas.

I moved into my first apartment in 2012, and when Christmas rolled around, Mum was determined to help me make my home feel festive, and bought me a faux Christmas tree. We picked out one of the more affordable options for artificial trees, and chose a whole collection of ornaments to go with it.

The tree wasn't supposed to last more than a couple of years—to be honest, I'm not sure it was ever supposed to last beyond that first year. But as I moved around after graduating, got married, and eventually settled in New York with my husband, the tree followed.

Its pre-lit lights still worked every year, and it was a good size for our not-exactly-spacious apartments. We typically travel to see family in Canada every Christmas, and faux trees don't mind being abandoned for weeks at a time, so that was a plus.

In 2020 and 2021, I needed a bit of extra cheer when the weather started to get colder and the days started getting shorter, and putting my trusty faux tree up in early November was no problem—no need to worry about it dropping needles or drying out before Christmas Day.

On New Year's Day, it was so easy to take all the ornaments off, disassemble the tree, put it back in our apartment building's basement, and have the apartment looking uncluttered again.

But something always felt like it was missing with that tree. No matter how much we fluffed it, it would look artificial (remember, it wasn't the best faux tree out there). And I missed that smell of fir and pine that would permeate the house, so much so that evergreen and Frasier fir-scented candles became my go-to for the holidays.

So this year, since we're spending the holidays at home and not visiting family, we decided to make it as cozy as possible and get a real tree. The experience of procuring the tree wasn't exactly the same as it was when I was growing up in Canada—buying it from under a highway overpass in Brooklyn rather than a snow-dusted tree farm in the countryside—but it had its own unique charm.

Buying a Christmas tree in Brooklyn
Kate's husband, Zane, carrying the real tree home.

Kate McKenna

And I'll be honest, the price was almost off-putting: not only are Christmas trees more expensive this year, but we also had to buy a stand and enough lights to cover the seven-foot balsam fir we ended up with. While we'll have the stand and lights for a while (hopefully), we will have to spend money every year on a new, fresh tree if we continue on this route.

Of course, real trees don't last as long and you have to be careful to keep the stand full of water. They can't be kept near a heat source as they'll dry out more quickly, and they can be a bit messier.

But, all in all, I'm glad we made the switch to a real Christmas tree this year. The apartment is filled with a fresh, outdoorsy scent, the tree is full and lush, and much bigger than our old one. It's making our apartment look and feel even more festive than in previous years, and going out to find the perfect tree is going to be something I look forward to every year again.