When you're making your house look festive and fun, follow these safety tips to ensure a happy holiday season.

December 9, 2005 -- As you trim the tree and deck the halls, it's important to take special care to make sure that your holiday traditions stay safe and healthy.

Each year, hospital emergency rooms treat about 12,800 people for falls, cuts, shocks, and burns due to incidents involving faulty holiday lights, dried-out Christmas trees and other holiday decorations, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).

Christmas trees are involved in about 300 fires annually, resulting in an average of 10 deaths, 40 injuries and about $7 million in property damage and loss, the CPSC says.

To keep this holiday season a merry one, follow these decorating safety tips from the CPSC and American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP):


  • If you're buying a live tree, check for freshness. A fresh tree is green, needles are hard to pull from branches and do not break when bent between your fingers. The bottom of a fresh tree is sticky with resin, and when tapped on the ground, the tree should not lose many needles.
  • If you're buying an artificial tree, look for the label "Fire Resistant". Although this label does not mean the tree won't catch fire, it does indicate the tree is more resistant to burning.

  • When setting up a tree at home, place it away from fireplaces, radiators, or portable heaters. Because heated rooms dry live trees out rapidly, be sure to keep the stand filled with water. Place the tree out of the way of traffic, and do not block doorways.
  • Cut a few inches off the trunk of your tree to expose the fresh wood. This allows for better water absorption and will help to keep your tree from drying out and becoming a fire hazard.

  • Use only non-combustible or flame-resistant materials to trim a tree. Choose tinsel or artificial icicles of plastic or nonleaded metals. Leaded materials are hazardous if ingested by children.

  • If you have small children, take special care to avoid sharp or breakable decorations, keep trimmings with small removable parts out of the reach of children who could swallow or inhale small pieces, and avoid trimmings that resemble candy or food that may tempt a child to eat them.

  • To avoid eye and skin irritation, wear gloves when decorating with spun glass "angel hair."

  • To avoid lung irritation, follow container directions carefully while decorating with artificial snow sprays.

  • Never use lighted candles on a tree or near other evergreens. Always use non-flammable holders, and place candles where they will not be knocked down.

  • Remove wrapping papers, bags, paper, ribbons, and bows from tree and fireplace areas after gifts are opened because these items can pose suffocation and choking hazards to a small child or cause a fire if near flame.


  • Use only lights tested for safety by a nationally recognized Testing Laboratory, such as UL or ETL/ITSNA.
  • Check each set of lights, new or old, for broken or cracked sockets, frayed or bare wires, or loose connections. Throw out damaged sets.

  • If using an extension cord, make sure it's rated for the intended use (indoor versus outdoor, for example).

  • Never use electric lights on a metallic tree. The tree can become charged with electricity from faulty lights, and a person touching a branch could be electrocuted.

  • When using lights outdoors, check labels to be sure they have been certified for outdoor use and plug them in only ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) protected receptacles.  To hold lights in place, string them through hooks or insulated staples, not nails or tacks. Never pull or tug lights to remove them.

  • Turn off all holiday lights when you go to bed or leave the house. The lights could short out and start a fire.

Parents Magazine