Near the front entrance of Grobe’s Nursery and Garden Centre is a large sign welcoming you to Christmas tree country, and inside, hundreds of pre-cut Christmas trees line the interior of the greenhouse.
It’s pretty clear where the company’s allegiance lies in the ongoing debate of real versus fake Christmas trees.
“It starts in the ground and it ends in the ground,” said co-owner Perry Grobe of the benefits of a real tree over a fake one.
“An artificial tree has a lifespan and when it’s over it goes to the landfill.”
Grobe points to the myriad of other benefits of choosing a real Christmas tree every year, from the absorption of carbon dioxide, the protection of soil from runoff and erosion, and the creation habitat for wildlife. It can take between four to 15 years to grow a Christmas tree, depending on the species and the desired height.
Meanwhile, proponents of the artificial tree point to the ease and convenience associated with not having to drag a real one inside.
“They are cleaner than a live tree, and there is less mess with no needles falling off,” said Lindsey Dietrich, a spokesperson from Home Hardware, which sells a wide range of artificial trees.
“They’re a lot lower maintenance with no watering involved or needles to vacuum.”
The Christmas tree has a long history. Records suggest that when St. Boniface travelled to Germany during the 7th century to convert the people to Christianity, he came across a group of pagans worshipping an oak tree.
Legend has it that he cut down the tree in anger and, to his amazement, a young fir sprung up from the roots of the oak. St. Boniface took this as a sign of the Christian faith, but it wasn’t until the 16th century that fir trees were brought indoors at Christmastime.
Martin Luther is purported to have started the tradition of decorating trees to celebrate Christmas around 1500. He was struck by the beauty of the snow-covered evergreens shimmering in the moonlight and returned home and set up a fir tree indoors and decorated it with candles in honour of Christ’s birth.
Meanwhile, the first artificial trees were developed in the 19th century in Germany after growing concerns of widespread deforestation, and they were made of goose feathers that were dyed green. Since then they have been made out of brush bristles, aluminum and now plastic PVC.
Nowadays customers can purchase an artificial tree to match their own decorating needs, including memory wire so they hold their shape year after year, pre-lit, and they come in a wide range of colours as well, said Dietrich.
Plus, they save you time during the hectic holiday season – at a price. The artificial Christmas tree ma rket has grown into a $44-million industry, with prices ranging from $50 up to $500, yet that price is worth it for many customers, said Dietrich.
“They look real without the hassle. I think over the years we’ve come a long way in making artificial trees look very real and authentic,” she said, adding that fake trees are non-allergenic and that real trees can sometimes grow mold at the base.
“They can also be assembled in just a few minutes.”
Despite that ease, however, Grobe still prefers the tradition that comes with finding that perfect tree, taking it home and decorating it with the family. He said that they sell thousands of trees each year, indicating he isn’t alone in that assertion.
“After selling as many trees as we have here, there is no question that some folks see it as a tradition to do it as a family, and it would become part of a ritual for many folks – going out and getting the Christmas tree and putting it up is part of their celebration of Christmas.”
And Grobe knows a thing or two about tradition – he proposed to his wife while decorating the Christmas tree, and it’s become an important part of their family story ever since.
“The date is pretty well engrained in her head as to when it should go up (Dec. 2),” he laughed, “and I have yet to take it down before Jan. 6.”