Trees and Trimmings: Staying Safe This Holiday Season

Tangled and overloaded Christmas lights.

There is so much excitement during the holiday season, and one of my favorite parts is the decorating. I love to put those warm touches on and in my home, beckoning guests to come and stay a while. I have learned, however, not to put the cart before the horse in all of my seasonal fervor. Having had more than my fair share of holiday accidents, I am happy to say that I am now qualified to share some of the safety lessons I have learned the hard way over the years.


By far the safest tree to purchase for the holiday season is an artificial tree. Artificial trees have come a long way in the last decade or so and now resemble a real tree so well that many have a hard time telling them apart. Most synthetic trees are made from fire retardant material and certainly pose less threat to homeowners than live trees. They are generally fairly easy to assemble and, once decorated, add an elegant flair to any room in the house.

If you are committed to a real traditional Christmas tree, be sure to pick one that is not overly dry. A dry tree increases fire risk and is quite hard to keep up on as it drops needles all over the floor. Look for a tree with healthy, green needles that are difficult to pull off. The trunk should be sticky with resin and fairly soft to touch.

Proper placement of the tree is also important. Make sure it is set away from radiators, fireplaces or any other heat source. Use a sturdy base that will keep the tree watered and in place. For extra security, attach thin guide wires to hold the tree to the ceiling and walls so that it will not fall if accidentally bumped into. This is especially important for larger trees. Water your tree regularly and check that the it remains firmly in the base. Never keep a tree indoors for longer than 3 weeks and always discard the tree if you are planning on leaving your home for more than a couple of days.


Candles are a beautiful and traditional Christmas decoration, but if not handled properly can turn into a blazing fire. Always keep candles in non-flammable holders away from any flammable materials. Never leave a candle burning in a room unattended. Keep wicks on candles trimmed and be sure not to place a lighted candle in the direct path of an air vent or ceiling fan. To keep curious children and pets safe, never place candles in areas where they can reach them or accidentally bump into them. Be sure to keep lighters out of the reach of children, as well. Always double check that all candles are out before leaving your home or retiring for the night. If you love the way a flickering light looks but are concerned with real flames, consider battery operated candles. Many give the look and feel of a real flame without the fire risk.


Lights add charm and character to everything Christmas. Just looking at Christmas lights can make you smile. However, don't be in a hurry to install lights before you take the time to inspect wires, bulbs and connections. Proper light storage often eliminates damaged bulbs and wires, but it is still a good idea to check when you unpack your lights. Never use lights with frayed or exposed wires. To reduce the risk of fire, do not use any more than three strands of lights per extension cord.

Never use indoor lights or indoor extension cords outdoors. Use caution and always have assistance when installing lights outdoors, especially if you use a ladder. Secure all lights to your home using proper fasteners and clips, better to have too many than not enough. Connecting your lights to an automatic timer will help conserve energy.


It is so much fun to get the boxes of decorations down from the attic and look at all of the festive decor and ornaments. Many people make tree decorating a family affair and allow everyone to participate. Be sure to keep breakable ornaments out of reach of small children and pets. In fact, if you have small children and pets, it is always best to use as many nonbreakable ornaments as possible. Be careful not to place paper or other flammable decorations near fireplaces or heaters. Avoid spray snow, as it can cause lung damage if inhaled. If you use fresh greenery in and around your home, be sure to keep it well watered and discard it when it becomes dry. Do not overwork outlets inside with indoor lights and decorations. This increases fire risk.

One way to reduce the risk of an accident during the holidays is to keep your decorating simple. The less crowded your home and electric circuits are, the safer you will be. Don't compromise safety for elaborateness and always be mindful of those living in and visiting your home.