Christmas Safety: Decorating Tips

The kids are getting excited–whether they’re 7 or 77—and with the sharp frost in the air and the carol singers getting ready to make their rounds, thoughts turn to putting up the tree, draping lights all around the house and lighting up the scented candles that make a house smell like…well…like Christmas. Without trying to dampen anyone’s enthusiasm for the task of turning their home into a glowing, living Christmas card, we would also like to pass on some helpful holiday decorating safety tips, along with a cautionary but factual tale of the 12,500 people who end up in hospital emergency rooms for treatment of injuries caused by falling off ladders, cuts and shocks they got while putting up holiday lights.

It’s not just electric lights that cause problems. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has determined that candles start an average of 11,600 house fires each year. The toll is heavy; 150 deaths, 1,200 injuries and more than $170 million in property damage.

Christmas trees deserve a complete chapter of holiday decorating safety tips. These eternal symbols of holiday time are involved in around 300 fires each year, directly leading to an average of 10 deaths, 30 injuries and more than $10 million in property damage.

The CPSC have started monitoring holiday lights and decorations being sold at Oregon stores. At a national level, they have prevented the import of more than 115,000 units of holiday lights that weren’t up to prescribed safety standards. They encourage anyone shopping for decorations to “make sure your holiday lights bear the mark of a recognized testing lab, to show they meet safety standards.”

Tips for Protecting Your Family Over the Holidays

The main sources of trouble fall under four categories—Christmas trees, lights, other decorations and fireplaces. Have a quick look at these holiday decorating safety tips for each.


  • If you’re buying an artificial tree, please be sure to look for a “fire resistant” label. This doesn’t mean the tree won’t catch fire, but it will resist burning and will also be easier to extinguish if it does start burning.
  • If you can’t resist the fresh pine smell of a traditional, real tree, check to see if the tree is fresh. If the tree is green and the needles are hard to pull from branches, the odds are it’s a fresh tree. If in doubt, tap the tree on the ground. A fresh tree won’t lose many needles. If a tap on the ground sends a shower of needles down around your feet, put the tree back and walk away.
  • Put your tree up away from fireplaces and radiators. Heat dries a real tree out very quickly, so keep the tree stand filled with water.


  • Never, ever use lights that haven’t been tested for safety by a recognized testing laboratory, and only use lights that have properly fused plugs.
  • Before stringing up any lights, new or old, check for broken or cracked plugs, frayed or bare wires or loose connections. If you have to replace burned out bulbs, be sure to use the same wattage bulb as the originals.
  •  Don’t overload extension cords! A maximum of three standard sets of lights should be plugged into one extension cord, which should also be rated for the intended use.
  • If you have a metallic tree, do not put electric lights on. If the lights are faulty, they could charge the metallic branches and anyone touching them could be electrocuted.
  • Outdoor lights—it may sound obvious but make sure any lights you put out of doors are suitable for outdoor use. Also, make sure outdoor lights are fastened securely to trees, walls or fences, to avoid being cracked or otherwise damaged in windy conditions.
  • Tempting as it is to leave the lights on, it’s important to turn all holiday lights off when you go to bed, or leave the house, even if you’re only going out for an hour. If the lights short out, they can start a fire in a few seconds.


  • Only flame-resistant material should be used to trim a tree. If using tinsel or artificial icicles, choose plastic or nonleaded varieties.
  • They may have done it in the 18th century, but putting real candles on a Christmas tree or any other evergreen is a definite no-no nowadays.
  • If you’re decorating with spun glass “angel hair,” wear gloves to avoid skin irritation, and never let it near your eyes.
  • If you decorate with artificial snow sprays, carefully follow the directions on the container to avoid lung and eye irritation.


  • The fire salts that produce colored flames when thrown on wood fires are made from heavy metals that can cause serious gastrointestinal irritation, including vomiting, if children eat them. Keep them out of reach.
  • It’s tempting to throw wrapping paper into the fireplace, but this should be avoided. Wrappings ignite suddenly and burn intensely—a combination that can lead to a flash fire with devastating consequences.

Following these holiday decorating tips won’t diminish your enjoyment of the season, but it may help you to reach the New Year without becoming another holiday accident statistic. We wish you the safest and happiest holiday season, and a peaceful and healthy New Year.