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Fake vs. real Christmas trees: The perennial debate

Christmas just isn’t Christmas without the smell of a real tree in the home — at least that seemed to be the consensus when Global News hit the streets to find out what tree (authentic or artificial) people pine for most.

“Oh unquestionably real,” one Torontonian told us.

“You have to have a real Christmas tree,” he added. “It’s the only way to be. Unless you have an allergy, which is feasible I suppose.”

WATCH: It’s a decision made by millions of people around the world: whether to go for a real Christmas tree or a fake.

Allergies aside, a lot of people opt for artificial because it’s easier and less messy.

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Plus, you don’t have to worry about the creepy crawlies that can sometimes hitch a ride home with you if you buy a real tree.

However, there’s one big advantage to real trees that some argue has every faux beat: the smell.

“I love a real Christmas tree, the fragrance is amazing,” said Edmonton-based designer Cory Christopher.

“There’s nothing that sort of captivates the festive season than walking into a home and having that beautiful smell of balsam fir.”

The annual ritual of picking a real tree is another big draw. It’s always been a tradition for Christopher.

Real trees are significantly better for the environment as well, research shows. Fake trees tend to end up in landfills when they’re tossed since they can’t be recycled.

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Many older artificial trees are also believed to contain lead and PVC plastic.

A 2008 report from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found that artificial Christmas trees made of PVC degrade under normal conditions, and when an artificial tree gets to be nine years old, “dangerous lead exposure can occur.”

“Recent studies have found that as plastic trees age, they can start to release a kind of lead dust into your home. That alone could have a real impact on how long we want to keep an artificial tree before replacing it – perhaps with a live tree,” said Jennifer Smith, horticulturist with Kansas State University.

READ MORE: Tips for avoiding toxic chemicals in holiday decorations and gifts

The majority of Christopher’s clients (22 of 24) this season have gone with a fake tree.

“The advances in technology around artificial trees is absolutely astonishing to be completely honest,” Christopher said.

“Now they’re pre-lit…when you go touch a tree, it almost feels realistic.”

“Oftentimes I have clients, when I bring in a beautiful tree, they’re like ‘oh my god, it’s real?’ But really, it’s an artificial tree I’ve brought in.”

“Besides the smell not being there I would say everything else really is captured in the artificial tree.”

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But even that can be faked with a candle, a spray, or some fresh bows of cedar, white pine or Douglas fir. You can usually find the bows at a local garden centre, according to Christopher, for about $5 to $10.

Just throw a couple into a vase with water and the aroma will quickly fill the room, he promises.

If you do go for a real tree, go for the greenest one you can find and do the touch test: run your fingers over the branch, and if needles fall off choose a different tree.

WATCH: Meaghan Craig has some more advice on finding the perfect tree and how to make sure it lasts through the holiday season.

Experts recommend you cut two inches off the bottom of a real tree before you put it into a stand. And keep the water in the stand full for the first three days.

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Avoid placing it near a heat register or ceiling fan as that will dry it out faster.

Then instead of chucking the tree out in January, you can actually replant it in your yard if you buy it with its roots intact.

Here are some more Christmas tree facts.

Infographic design by Deepak Sharma, Global News

With files from Meaghan Craig, Global News and Heather Loney

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