Fake or real? The Christmas tree debate lives on

The air is chilly and the smell of winter is in the air.

That means it’s time for the great annual holiday debate: Fake Christmas tree or real?

KTVU’s Sal Castaneda stepped into the fray by inviting Patrick Harbison of the American Christmas Tree Association into the studio on Wednesday, to tout the beauty and ease of artificial trees.

“They’re so organic in shape right now,” Harbison said. “They mirror real trees.” 

Harbison unapologetically boasted more pros:  Artificial trees don't shed needles onto your living room floor.

Allergies? Pets chewing on bark? Neither are a problem with plastic leaves and branches, Harbison said.

He also highlighted his high-tech trees, some decked out with Wifi, a downloadable app and customizable light displays featuring twinkling rainbows to light the room. The trees he brought in were from Treetopia in South San Francisco and Balsam Hill in Redwood City. 

“As tech advances,” he said, “so does the look and feel and texture of the trees.”

Plus, they are a cinch to put away. 

 “What’s so great about this one,” he said, pointing to a “stow ‘n go” tree “is that with one button, you can collapse it. It’s easy to package up.” 

A father and son stand at a tree farm on Redwood Road in Castro Valley. (Castro Valley Christmas Tree Farm)

Certainly, not everyone agrees with Harbison. 

As the segment was airing on TV, Caitlin Delaney, the general manager of the Castro Valley Christmas Tree Farm called in to KTVU to say seeing all the fake trees being feted made her “stomach hurt.” 

“There is nothing more offensive to tree farmers than fake trees!” she said. “In today's day and age we need everything fresh and live that we can get.” 

Her farm, which opens the day after Thanksgiving, is owned by Paul Illingsworth, a former elementary school teacher who holds a degree in forestry. It's located in the East Bay Hills on Redwood Road, where visitors get a “unique outdoor experience” while cutting their own real trees.

"People need to spend more time outside with their families," Delaney said. "They need a fresh tree in the house." 

Many families make Christmas tree cutting an annual tradition, loading saws, twine, cookies and hot chocolate in the car, spending the day choosing the best-smelling Douglas fir before loading up the minivan and taking home the perfect tree. 

Harbison had an answer for that, too.  

Whatever your family tradition is, do that, he said, noting that as a kid, his family tradition was to go fake tree shopping.

"We would go to Target and get them," he said. "That was our tradition."