Artificial Vs. Real Christmas Trees

Bill Geist getting a tree

Frankenmuth, Mich., is known as a 'Little Bavaria,' and its quaint charm attracts over 3 million visitors each year. It is an especially popular during the holiday season.

CBS Sunday Morning correspondent Bill Geist visited the town to see what makes it such a haven for the holiday spirit. He found Christmas in full swing at Bronners, the world's largest Christmas store, which sells a staggering amount of artificial Christmas trees.

"It's a virtual forest," tree buyer Sandra Schafsnitz told Geist. "We have about 200 varieties of trees that we carry each year... Anywhere from a white to silver. 12-foot, 14-foot, and we can even go on up to 30-foot for a special order tree."

Some would recoil at the thought of an artificial tree, but it's a choice that many Americans make. Traditionalists love real trees for their scent, and some people like cutting their own tree. But artificial trees leave no needles to clean up and come in a variety of styles and colors. Prelit Christmas trees, which come with the lights already on them, are very popular.

"They've come a long way with the prelit trees," Schafsnitz said. "They're absolutely gorgeous, and you virtually take them out of the box. The tree usually comes in three sections. Put the section in, shape it, and the next section in, shape it and you're ready to decorate."

Here, buying a Christmas tree is practically like buying a car, what with all the options. Schafsnitz showed Geist an upside-down corner tree and a half tree that can be used as a space saver. Some trees are made out of polyvinyl chloride.

Prelit trees also come with a variety of lights: white, colored, two-tone, fiber optic, and LEDs, or light emitting diodes. Some lights look like pinecones with melting snow.

There are also the trees that don't try to hide their fakeness, like tinsel tree and ice crystal tree.

"That's more of a fashion tree," Schafsnitz said.

Certainly the artificial trees are fast and easy — two qualities Americans look for in everything. More than half the Christmas trees displayed in our homes this year will be artificial, but real trees are making a comeback with an aggressive public relations campaign by the National Christmas Tree Association and with scientists at places like North Carolina State, spending long hours in the lab to breed a better Christmas tree.

Pete Blake of Blake's Farm in Armada, Mich., hopes Christmas tree geneticists will find a cure for the pressing needle retention problem. Meanwhile, he has a few tricks up his sleeve, like a contraption which furiously shakes the trees to get rid of pesky dead needles. He also developed a way to make putting the tree on the stand simple.

"We drill the tree and a person can put it up in 30 seconds," he said. "One person. We like to call it the 'marriage saver.'"

Blake thinks there's something greater at work for real trees.

"I think it's coming back as a way to bring families together: old-fashioned Christmas," he said.