Fake tree. New location. Big changes are coming for Raleigh’s Christmas tree lighting.

Workers hang lights on the Christmas tree at City Plaza in downtown Raleigh in 2012.
Workers hang lights on the Christmas tree at City Plaza in downtown Raleigh in 2012. NEWS & OBSERVER FILE PHOTO

If you’re coming downtown for the annual Christmas tree lighting this year, prepare for a few changes.

The Downtown Raleigh Tree Lighting Celebration will no longer be at City Plaza and the more than 30-foot tree will be artificial for the first time.

The celebration is planned for 6 p.m. Friday, Nov. 30 on the Lichtin Plaza at the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, located at 2 E. South St. The ceremony will include area choirs in period dress, free hot chocolate and food trucks.

“I think the biggest reason for the move is we wanted more people to be able to enjoy it,” said Kris Larson, the CEO of Downtown Raleigh Alliance, which organizes the event. “The last couple of years it’s been at City Plaza tucked in between the little restaurants and you can really only see it once you’re in City Plaza.”

As for the tree itself, Downtown Raleigh Alliance has had trouble finding a large tree that was also aesthetically pleasing. They’d received complaints that the trees were too small, were asymmetrical or that they didn’t look enough like a Christmas tree.

And an artificial tree will likely save DRA money in the long-run.

“The primary motivation was not cost,” Larson said. “All told, getting a natural tree and decorating each year costs anywhere from $15,000 to $20,000 and our artificial tree will cost about $30,000. But we will get more years out of service for the tree. But the financial savings is really secondary. The primary motivation was having a beautiful tree that is going to be well decorated and get people excited about the holidays.”

DRA “feels good about the decision” to move to an artificial tree regardless of any strong feelings people may have about using fake trees over a real one, he said.

“Artificial trees have been very popular in American homes for decades,” Larson said. “At the end of the day, we feel like we’re making the right decision for the right reasons.”

People should be able to see the tree if they are looking down Fayetteville Street. The display will also include a 9-foot Hanukkah menorah and a display for Kwanzaa.

“We are hoping to include a lot of different heritage and different spiritual and religious ceremonies to kick off the holiday seasons,” Larson said.

On the other end of Fayetteville Street downtown, the Christmas tree lighting at the State Capitol is planned for Thursday, Dec. 6. The celebration begins at 5 p.m., with the actual tree lighting happening around 6 p.m. The Junior Woman’s Club will provide cookies and hot chocolate and, yes, the big man in red will be there.

And a real Christmas tree.

“We always use real North Carolina-grown Christmas trees,” said Tara Schramm, site administrator for the Capitol. “Of course we are a tree-growing state, and we are proud of that. We have never considered using an artificial tree.”

The trees for the Capitol and the governor’s mansion are from Peak Farms in Ashe County. North Carolina is the number two producer of Christmas trees in the country.

Related stories from Raleigh News & Observer