Essential Christmas Safety Tips You Need This Holiday Season

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There is something magical about a house beautifully decorated with holiday lights, a tall, adorned tree in the front window and heirloom decorations displayed on the mantel and throughout the home.

Don't let the magic of the holidays turn into a nightmare with a house fire, a fall, or any other household accident. Take precautions this holiday season to keep your home and family safe.

Christmas Tree Safety

According to the U.S. Fire Administration, Christmas trees are the cause of 250 house fires each year. Take steps to avoid your house becoming a statistic.

  • If you use an artificial tree, select one that is labeled as fire resistant.
  • A real tree should be as fresh as possible. Cut your own if you can, if not, choose a tree that is green and moist.
  • Needles should bend, not break between your fingers, and should resist being pulled from the branches.
  • Cut a couple of inches off the trunk of your tree when you bring it home. This allows the trunk to take up water and helps keep the tree from drying out.
  • Keep the Christmas tree stand filled with fresh water.
  • Do not set up your tree near the fireplace, a radiator or portable heater.
  • Never use lit candles to decorate the tree.
  • Use a sturdy stepstool to reach the top of the tree.
  • Keep anything combustible away from the tree. Decorations should be flame-resistant.
  • Turn off the tree lights when leaving the house or before going to bed at night.
  • Dispose of your tree according to local regulations right after the holidays. Do not leave a dried tree sitting in the garage or yard long after Christmas is over, such a tree is a fire hazard.
  • Never burn a Christmas tree in your fireplace. Fir trees produce a lot of creosote and can create buildup in the chimney.
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Christmas Lights

Christmas lights are beautiful on your home and on your tree, but can be a hazard. Simple precautions will keep your home safe for the holiday season.

  • Check all Christmas lights before putting them on the tree or on the house. Look for burned-out bulbs, frayed wires, broken sockets or loose connections. Throw away any strings of lights that are worn out.
  • Only use lights certified for outdoor use to adorn your home's exterior. Lights should be marked as safety tested by UL or ETL.
  • Don't overload electrical outlets with excessive plugs and extension cords.
  • Outdoor lights and electrical decorations should be plugged into outlets with ground fault circuit interrupters.
  • Use hooks or insulated holders for hanging your lights. Tacks and nails can make holes through the wires, potentially causing shocks.
  • Do not yank or pull strings of lights.
  • Keep Christmas lights off metal trees or other metal structures.
  • Wash your hands after handling holiday lights, as the wires often contain lead.
  • Unplug lights before changing burned out bulbs.
  • Though they are pretty, the large, seven-volt lights burn very hot, and can cause fires. Stick with smaller bulbs.
  • Replace a burned-out bulb with a new one at the same wattage.
  • Use a sturdy ladder for hanging lights off the edge of the roof. Do not climb trees or other structures to hang lights.
  • Take extra care when walking on your roof to set up decorations.

Fire Safety

Christmas is a time of increased fire risk due to the tree and lights. You should also be aware of risks associated with the fireplace and candles, as well as kitchen fires.

  • Check smoke detectors regularly, and change batteries when necessary.
  • A sealed home during cold winter months can be dangerous if there is a carbon monoxide leak. Prevent tragedy with a CO detector in your home.
  • Never leave candles burning unattended, and keep candles away from flammable materials.
  • Do not burn wrapping papers in your fireplace. These can cause a flash fire, as they burn at very high heat.
  • Use a fire screen to prevent sparks from flying out of the fireplace.
  • It's easy to get distracted while cooking during a holiday get-together. Never leave food cooking unattended on the stove.

Pet Dangers

Fluffy and Fido will be curious about the tree and decorations during the holiday season. Keep them safe from harm, and avoid pet disasters.

  • Pine needles can cause intestinal damage if eaten by a pet. Sweep up fallen needles each day.
  • Keep mistletoe, holly, lilies and other holiday plants out of your pet's reach.
  • Some pets, especially rabbits, will chew on electrical cords. Be sure to keep the cords on all decorations and lights safely away from a curious pet's mouth.
  • Dangling tinsel is tempting to cats, which might swallow strands while playing. This can cause intestinal damage.
  • Pets can become stressed by all the holiday activity. Take time to walk your pet on a regular basis, spend time interacting with them, and keep their regular feeding schedule.
  • Do not leave pets unattended around the Christmas tree. A curious feline can easily topple a tree while climbing, or knock ornaments down.
  • Don't let guests feed your pet human food. Rich meats and desserts can lead to tummy trouble.
  • Keep your pets out of the Christmas tree stand water. Bacteria and fallen needles can make your pet sick.

Child Proofing the Holidays

The holidays are very exciting for children, and babies and toddlers can get into mischief very quickly. Don't forget to baby proof at holiday time.

  • Keep your young children away from the tree. They can pull it over easily, causing injury.
  • Use electric candles instead of real flames.
  • Clean up after holiday parties. Your little one might find a half-consumed glass of alcohol or cigarette butt and sample it.
  • Small ornaments are choking hazards. Keep them out of reach, or avoid using them while your children are very young.
  • Delicate or glass ornaments are best kept off the tree with toddlers in the home. Stick with plastic or other nonbreakable decorations.
  • Keep holiday plants out of baby's reach.
  • Put away the ladder or footstool after use. Little ones will not be able to resist the climb, and can easily be hurt.

The Christmas season is a joyous time. Take simple safety precautions to keep your holiday healthy and happy, with no danger to your family or home.

Last Updated: December 19, 2011
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About Michelle Ullman Michelle Ullman has lived and gardened in Southern California since childhood. A freelance writer, she covers topics ranging from gardening to home improvement to health issues. She also has experience as a catalog copywriter and poet. Michelle has trained and worked as a respiratory therapist and surgical technologist, but prefers to spend her time gardening, and walking with her dog. Michelle holds a Bachelor's Degree from Redlands University in Business Management. 

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