All the real trees

Artificial trees made to look real are always tacky. But earlier this millennium, the thirst for ultra-tacky retro fakes, in particular mid-century-modern aluminum trees, began to elevate kitsch to the rank of spirit.

In other words, if you managed to score a real-deal vintage tinsel tree on eBay and could hew savvily to period ornamentation, you could count yourself as festive as any DIY doyenne who wove her own pine wreaths while baking wheat-free gingerbread.

Except that last year, big-box craft store Michael's started selling numerous new interpretations of old-school tinsel trees. Which means they're about to join the ranks of real-looking fakes, becoming as drearily middlebrow as inflatable rooftop Santas.

Enter real trees … again. Until very recently, traditional axed Fraser firs were frowned upon for their negative environmental impact, due to the resources needed to farm them and the inevitable question of disposal. Live trees that were actually still alive, i.e. with root balls, were one trendy alternative. But their price was prohibitive.

And then there is this: Fake trees, while re-usable for more than one season, tend to look battered and wan within a few years—and then survive for epochs in a landfill.

Factoids put forth by pickyourownchristmastree.org include the claims that Christmas-tree farms "provide a habitat for wildlife and remove dust and pollen from the air," and that, if properly recycled, trees can be "used to make sand and soil-erosion barriers" or "placed in ponds for fish shelter."

The WNC high country is the Christmas-tree capital of the East, second only behind Oregon in national tree production and an increasingly popular destination for those regional families who want the experience of selecting their own tree for supreme freshness (farm workers do the actual chopping). In this, the N.C. Christmas Tree Association's 50th year, growers all over the Boone area together with local inns are offering package deals for weekenders — or, at the very least, hot chocolate for day-trippers.

The organization's executive director, the advantageously named Jennifer Greene, points out some of the further evils of fakes. Besides not being biodegradable, artificial trees "are often made with leaded metal and oil-based petroleum paints," she says. Greene also extols the virtues of the Fraser fir, including its superior needle retention. High-country farms are harvesting trees in an increasing range of sizes, from 3 to 35 feet, she says.

And also, you know, they smell pretty nice.

For information on choose-and-cut programs, see www.ncchristmastrees.com or call (800) 562-8689.

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