Go for the real deal or don't bother.

By Zoë Gowen
Pencil Christmas Trees
Credit: Liz Strong

Truth be told, when I first heard about "Pencil Christmas Trees" I imagined a pyramid-shaped structure built of yellow Number 2 pencils (like a kindergartner's holiday craft). Immediately, my co-worker told me that my vision was off base. A quick google search led to a screen dotted with unattractive and faux tall Christmas trees that looked a lot like life size versions of bottle brush Christmas trees that have also been trending holiday décor this year. While dismayed by Google, I was still determined to find the upside in a pencil Christmas tree. After all, the look worked out well for Charlie Brown. And these trees are perfect for tight spaces so I questioned Southern-bred, California-transplanted super stylist and true Christmas fanatic Liz Strong.

As luck would have it, Liz's own live skinny tree had just arrived this week (that's hers in the photo). She'd actually ordered her sparse tree in July and has plenty to say on the skinny Christmas tree phenomenon of 2018.

Know what you're looking for

Asking for a skinny Christmas tree won't get you a good looking one. The proper term is high-elevation tree or high-altitude tree. Look for varieties like the silver tip fir or the red fir, which both grow in Northern California and Oregon. These evergreen trees grow at 1,400-2,700 meters, only rarely reaching the tree line. They are less common and have fewer branches. The branches are stronger, which works better for large ornaments and since they are hardier trees they don't shed much.

These trees really hold their own

Their sparse branches showcase the ornaments better and the tree has an imperfect vintage look. Plus, Liz likes the silver tips (a lighter green than most trees, like the color of a eucalyptus). They look nice day and night. The sparse, but sculptural branch placement allows a lot of light to shine through— so you don't need a ton of twinkling lights to make it shine during the daytime. Traditionally fat Christmas trees tend to look like dark blobs during the day.

They make for better photos

Have you ever noticed that it's difficult to take a photo of a tree during the day? Skinny trees are more photogenic because the fewer branches afford an airier look— so, they work well for displays, shop windows, photo shoots— and of course, in the living room family photo.

The Verdict

If you're going to get a live pencil Christmas tree, Southern Living approves of (and encourages!) your decision. If you're opting for an artificial tree, it's best to order a traditional fuller tree. No matter which type you decide on, Liz advises against any pre-trimmed Christmas trees. "Embrace the imperfections and go for the natural, old-fashioned shape," she says.