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Staff photo by Troy Stolt / Judy James stands with her decorated Christmas trees at her "Home for the Holidays" booth in Chattanooga Mercantile.

The Chattanooga Mercantile customer intended a loving gesture for his wife when he bought the densely flocked and fully decorated Christmas tree from vendor Judy James' "Home for the Holidays" booth in mid-November.

"The wife was in the hospital, and he wanted to have the tree in place when she came home," James says. "He was happy."

Until he got it home and tried to set it up — and realized he hadn't accounted for ceiling height.

"He bought it thinking it would be one and done," James says of the husband (who declined to be interviewed).

But it was too tall for the room he bought the tree for. Even more problematic, it was too tall for any other room in the house.

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Some opt for artificial Christmas trees with ornaments already attached

"Of course his wife loved it, but they had to cut 8 inches off the bottom to make it fit," James says.

Had height not been a hindrance, the husband could have fulfilled his vision of a beautifully lighted and decorated Christmas tree in a matter of minutes, rather than the hours it can take to string a tree with lights and encase it with ornaments and other embellishments.

He's not the only one looking for a wow factor with a "now" factor. Artificial trees are preferred 2-to-1 over real trees, according to a Rocket Homes survey. Consumers say convenience is among the motivations for using an artificial tree, and advances in manufacturing are providing everything but the pine smell.

The latest artificial trees look more realistic and are easier to set up and take down than their earlier counterparts. Many come prelit, sometimes with a range of light colors and functions, enabling toggle time between, say, steady-on white lights and multicolored chasers. Retailers ranging from Amazon to Walmart are increasingly offering trees that are not only prelit but predecorated for even more convenience.

[READ MORE: Chattanooga-area Christmas tree sellers prepare for busy holiday season]

Selling decorated Christmas trees is often a revenue source for nonprofit organizations as well. Officials with Foundation House Ministries in Cleveland, Tennessee, and Harris Arts Center in Calhoun, Georgia, say their biggest fundraisers are Festival of Trees events. Both rely on sponsors and volunteers to donate and/or decorate trees.

April Bolin, job training coordinator at the Cleveland ministry, which provides services to women in crisis pregnancies, says their inaugural event, a one-night gala on Nov. 18, showcased an array of trees, baskets, wreaths and centerpieces.

"I think we had 20 trees, and all but two sold," she says, including a 10-foot stunner with a $650 final bid.

Larger trees could be picked up the next day, once everything was secured and ready for transport.

"They were fully assembled, wrapped in plastic and good to go," Bolin says.

At Harris Arts Center, the Festival of Trees is a 17-year tradition. Trees were on view for several weeks before final bids on Dec. 5.

Most of the trees are considered tabletop size, about 5 feet tall, but they get the occasional 6- or 7-foot tree, says Miranda Bentley, executive director.

Most appear even taller. A designer trick is to add fullness at the top of the tree with a vertical mound of ribbon, feathers or botanical picks to give the tree its crowning touch.

[READ MORE: Chattanooga-area Christmas tree farmers work all year for this festive season]

The trees in James' collection are 7 1/2 feet tall, but loom larger thanks to their headdresses. "With the sticks and feathers and everything else that goes on the top of it, it's probably close to 10 feet tall by the time it's finished," she says.

She's had decorating help and design expertise over the years from two friends, Tammy Cady and Rhonda Pierce, who own a freelance decorating business.

Selling her trees is something of an experiment for James, who divorced and downsized earlier this year. The four lush and lofty trees she set up in her Chattanooga Mercantile booth once filled various rooms in her former home. She wasn't sure they'd sell, but "I thought I'd see how other people react to them," she says. "Some people don't like to decorate."

James also brought in a half-dozen undecorated trees in various colors and sizes, but the four fully decorated specimens have been the standouts. The magazine-worthy faux firs, priced from $1,200 to $1,800, are trimmed with top-of-the-line ornaments, garland, sprays and other adornments that fill in every branch and bough. Just try to find a bare spot.

Their "for sale" signs often intrigue customers who wonder how they could possibly get one of these marvels home without losing some of the baubles. James says the process is easier than it looks. Despite their size and festoonery, the trees are completely mobile.

All of the ornamentation is securely wired on. There's nothing dangling from hooks. "It's not like you walk by and things fall off," James says. A cellophane wrap protects the tree in transit. All that's required is a little refluffing when the branches are freed from the cellophane.

Bentley says trees sold in the Harris Arts Center auction follow a similar protocol: tree sections are glued together, ornaments are wired on "and then we Saran wrap it for delivery or pickup."

Bentley, who's in her first year as executive director, says these extra steps are worth the peace of mind for any household with young children or pets (or clumsy adults).

"I'll never do my tree any other way," she says.

Despite her talent for extreme decorating, James is keeping things simple at her new place this Christmas, letting family memorabilia play a leading role.

"I'm going to put up a little live tree and decorate it with things the kids made growing up," she says.

Contact Lisa Denton at ldenton@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6281.

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