I'm not actually going to argue in favor of either one here. I honestly think that the argument has been made very well for both sides ad nauseum. (If you're still not sick of the debate, you can read an overview of the arguments here, although it doesn't do anything to clear up the issue. In the best journalistic style, the author presents a few facts without an opinion.) If you truly want an alternative, you can go to this website and make a donation which will not only plant some trees, but also help people in poor countries. (Here's the article I read which talks about it. Unlike a lot of charities, this one actually works with the locals to build a better, more sustainable community.)
Shane and I do have a little (not quite five feet tall, because it's shorter than me) fake tree. When I bought it, I wasn't thinking about, "Is it good for the environment?" or anything like that. I was just sick of going without a Christmas tree. And since it's just the two of us (three last year, with my little brother), and we visit family for Christmas every year, I didn't see the point of keeping a real tree. There's no way we would have kept up with the watering and it would have just been a fire hazard. Also, there's not enough space in our apartment for a big tree, or even a short round tree. This one has just the right amount of girth to be nice and noticeable, but it doesn't take up a huge amount of space.
The only downside to this tree is that it's rather lightweight. We'll see how it does this year, but last year the cat knocked it over several times (chasing the lights and the ornaments) and broke a few ornaments. We eventually weighted down the tree, but not before we had some casualties. Shane lamented the fact that his motorcycle Santa was missing half of his motorcycle, since we never did find it.
Will I get a real tree when we have a family of our own? Probably. I grew up with real trees, and there's just something about them that's hard to beat. In my opinion, they always look better and there's the wonderful, subtle smell. But Shane grew up with a fake Christmas tree, so we'll see how he feels about it when the time comes to decide. If we opt for a real tree, or even a bigger fake tree, this one will get donated so that someone else's holiday can be that much brighter.
The ornaments we used were all of Shane's ornaments from childhood, which his mom saved, boxed up, and sent home with us last Thanksgiving. The only others we have at this point are ones which are given out at the symphony's holiday concert. A local engineering firm sponsors the concert (which is a big deal with three singing choirs, a handbell choir, and the symphony) and they give out etched glass ornaments. Two years ago Shane and I accidentally each grabbed one so we had two flutes, but I traded one with my friend who was in the symphony the year they gave out the violin ornaments.
This year it was a piano. Last year was the conductor, which Shane and I still laugh about. "What, you don't want Dr. Zilberkant on our tree? Why not?" I mean, in addition to the face he's making (when he conducts, he makes faces like the music is so beautiful he's in pain, and they chose to portray an action scene, I guess) there's the sheer irony of having an ornament of my Jewish conductor on my Christmas tree. That ornament is so full of awesome!
At some point, I'll get my parents to send along my ornaments and then Shane's skiing mouse can share space with my clothespin ballerina. I know that some people like to get rid of all of their ornaments every year so that they can "start fresh" each year and have a new "theme" a la Martha Stewart, but I don't buy into that idea. Our ornaments have meaning to us. It's fun every year to pull them out when we decorate as a family and say, "Oh, look! This is one of my favorites!" Or hand someone an ornament that's special to them. My parents still have a couple of ornaments from their first year as a married couple, and even more sentimental ones which belonged to their parents (who have all passed away). No amount of professional decorating or "perfect" coordination can make any Christmas tree more special than using our old, sometimes shabby, ornaments. Who needs new ones every year when we have boxes of meaningful ones to hang? Even the oldest, with its chipping paint, looks beautiful hanging on the tree. That ballerina I mentioned? My mom bought it for me (after a little bit of wheedling and begging) when we were at the Pacific Northwest Ballet's production of "The Nutcracker" with dear friends. I get to remember how much fun that was every time I see that ornament. I have so many wonderful memories of Christmas, and the tree is a big part of that.
Speaking of Christmas, I found this heartbreaking article about how little kids are asking for themselves for Christmas. Most of what they're asking for are things like "jobs for mommy and daddy" and food. It makes me want to cry. No child should ever have to wish for enough to eat, or heat, or shelter as their Christmas gift.