Setting up the Christmas tree is one of the first things you think of in the lead up to the festive season.
Often, that means unboxing your trusty (plastic) Christmas tree for its yearly appearance in the living room.
But are fake trees really the way to go?
Some research suggests a real Christmas tree can have positive effects on our mental health and wellbeing.
Fake Christmas tree – yay or nay?
The most common reason why people choose artificial trees over real ones is because they believe it’s the more sustainable choice.
But according to a Canadian study from 2009, it would take more than 20 years for a fake tree to be more sustainable than a natural one.
The research took into account the greenhouse gas emissions released in producing artificial trees and the human health ramifications.
Professor Barbara Ozarska from the University of Melbourne’s School of Ecosystem and Forest Sciences, explained that fake Christmas trees are generally made of a plastic called polyvinyl chloride, commonly known as PVC.
It’s non-recyclable and produces carcinogens (a substance or mixture that can lead to cancer) during production.
“The artificial Christmas trees are both non-renewable and polluting,” Dr Ozarska wrote for the University of Melbourne.
Nature and our wellbeing
Exposing yourself to natural environments can improve a person’s mood, reduce stress and encourage you to become more social.
One study from Japan’s Kyoto University surveyed 498 healthy volunteers who went forest bathing (taking in the forest surroundings) twice in one day, compared to a control day.
The volunteers, who rated their mood on a standard psychological scale, found their hostility and depression scores plummeted significantly after forest bathing.
In fact, the more stressed people felt, the more relaxed they were after forest bathing.
Although going for a leisurely stroll in the forest isn’t the most accessible activity, you can still feel many of its positive effects from indoor plants.
Research shows being around ornamental plants also reduces stress and negativity at home and in the workplace.
It can improve relationships between people and increase their concern and empathy towards others as well.
What’s more, research has found even watching videos of natural settings increased connectedness to nature and positive emotions.
It’s starting to smell a lot like Christmas
Kim Lahiri, aromacologist for Trelonk Molecular Wellbeing, said placing a real tree inside our homes is like “installing our own therapeutic plant pharmacy” that continues to pump out “fragrant health-beneficial chemicals” after it has been cut from the ground.
“These chemicals like alpha-Pinene are prevalent throughout the world of essential oils and have been used traditionally for treating various ailments for centuries,” Ms Lahiri said.
The aroma of real Christmas trees is evocative of the festive season too. It triggers nostalgia and that’s a powerful thing.
Nostalgia can positively affect how people feel about themselves and how connected they feel towards others.
That said, you don’t need a real tree to feel nostalgic about Christmas.
An artificial tree can easily do that too.
Asthma sufferers prepare
Whichever tree you opt for, it’s important you prepare it properly – especially if you’re an asthma sufferer.
According to the National Asthma Council, both real and fake trees can pose a problem.
Real Christmas trees, like the very popular pine tree, can collect a high amount of pollen from other plants before they’re cut down.
To avoid triggering asthma symptoms, hose down your tree before you bring it inside. That way, you’ll wash off the allergens.
And when it comes to artificial Christmas trees, make sure you give yours a big shake outside to remove dust that has collected over the past year.
Another tip is to remove your ornaments, wreaths and other decorations outside, and vacuum or wipe them down to remove the dust.
Either way, make sure you have your asthma reliever on you.