The modern Christmas tree is frequently traced to the symbolism of trees in pre-Christian winter rites, wherein Viking and Saxon worshiped trees. The story of Saint Boniface cutting down Donar's Oak illustrates the pagan practices in 8th century among the Germans. A later folk version of the story adds the detail that an evergreen tree grew in place of the felled oak, telling them about how its triangular shape reminds humanity of the Trinity and how it points to heaven.
A Christmas tree is a decorated tree, usually an evergreen conifer such as spruce, pine, or fir or an artificial tree of similar appearance, associated with the celebration of Christmas. The modern Christmas tree was developed in medieval Livonia (present-day Estonia and Latvia) and early modern Germany, where Protestant Germans brought decorated trees into their homes. It acquired popularity beyond the Lutheran areas of Germany and the Baltic countries during the second half of the 19th century, at first among the upper classes.
Because we advised against pre-lit trees (as you typically can’t remove the lights from the tree even if they burn out), we chose to focus our research on unlit trees. That being said, we know that the convenience of a pre-lit tree is sometimes irresistible. And we have to admit, they make festive night lights. So, we’re still sharing our favorite pre-lit pick.
Wirecutter has been researching and testing Christmas tree stands since 2012. In that time, we’ve thoroughly vetted more than 35 stands and done hands-on testing with five. We’ve also read everything we can about Christmas tree stands, from a comparison in the The Wall Street Journal (subscription required) to a Christmas-themed blog called Miss Bee’s Christmas Tree (although not a professional reviewer, Miss Bee is pretty serious about tree stands). We’ve also scoured user reviews on the websites of several major retailers and perused a variety of “best of” lists (most of which, alas, rely mainly on those same websites, with little, if any, testing.)
The LED-lit Feel Real Downswept Douglas Fir (PEDD1-D12-75) has nearly 2,000 lifelike polyethylene branch tips surrounding a core of PVC “pine needles” (a construction used on all high-quality artificial trees). And at 37 percent polyethylene, it has a higher proportion of those lifelike branches than our other picks, creating a truly convincing illusion of a living tree. Its 750 LED bulbs fill its branches nicely, and the lights can switch from all-white to multicolor, giving it uncommon versatility. (The vast majority of pre-lit artificial trees are one style or the other, though all our picks can switch back and forth.) The light strings connect directly when you fit the tree sections together. At 7½ feet high and almost 5 feet across (59 inches to be exact), the tree is generously proportioned; it’ll fill the corner of almost any living room. Finally, it’s widely available, easy to set up, and competitively priced. (For smaller homes, we recommend the 6.5-foot version of this tree).
Bring the beauty and sweet scents of nature to your front door with wreaths crafted of fresh, farm-grown flowers, herbs, fruit branches and more. Rustic and contemporary wreaths welcome visitors to your home and a fragrant live wreath is a great seasonal accent to brighten up the indoors. Each piece is grown and harvested with care by a small family-operated farm in Northern California, who create each one to reflect warmth and individuality.
A feature that’s available only with LEDs is the ability to toggle between all-white and multicolor light—but most artificial trees are still sold with only one color mode or the other. Our pick is one of the relatively few that come with color-switching lights (and we made sure that all our other picks in this guide have this ability, too). We think this versatility is a big selling point for a tree you’ll have around for several seasons, and possibly multiple settings and occasions. For example, you could use all-white for a more sophisticated look during a grown-up holiday party and use the multicolor mode when the mood is more festive. Or you could just do something different from year to year so that it doesn’t seem like the same tree every Christmas.
The debate about the environmental impact of artificial trees is ongoing. Generally, natural tree growers contend that artificial trees are more environmentally harmful than their natural counterparts. However, trade groups such as the American Christmas Tree Association, continue to refute that artificial trees are more harmful to the environment, and maintain that the PVC used in Christmas trees has excellent recyclable properties.
For example, the pre-lit 7½-foot-tall, 59-inch-wide version of its Rocky Mountain Pine (same dimensions as our top pick) has 2,764 branch tips (versus our pick’s 1,867) and 1,000 bulbs (versus 750). And it has 54 percent realistic polyethylene branch tips, versus 37 percent. On the other hand, you have to choose white or colored bulbs; the Balsam Hill Rocky Mountain Pine doesn’t come in a color-switching model like our pick. And the extra tips, percent-polyethylene, and bulbs come at a premium: The Rocky Mountain pine has a list price of about $860, and typically retails for roughly $520—historically, $100 or more than our pick. If that’s in your budget, go for it: It’s a terrific tree. To get a similarly specced Balsam Hill tree at a price close to our pick, you’re limited to the company’s Traditional line, which is made entirely of PVC.
In addition to different materials and levels of realism, Balsam Hill offers four Signature artificial Christmas tree collections, including Aspen Christmas Signature, Vermont Signature, Napa Christmas Signature, and Smoky Mountain Christmas Signature. All 12 foot and under Christmas trees in these collections even come with our 3-year limited warranty. So, you can rest assured that your Balsam Hill artificial Christmas tree will look flawless all season long, and for years to come!