Keeping the Holidays Safe

NOTE:  This post first appeared last holiday season and is updated with additional information, including safe holiday travel, food safety, and safe toy giving.

The holiday season is a time of enjoyment with family and friends.  Unfortunately, it can also be a time of danger.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) estimates that during the 2017  holiday season there were over 14,000 Emergency Room visits resulting from holiday related decorating injuries.  Fires involving Christmas trees and candles were 100 for Christmas trees and 1,200 for candles, according to the CPSC.  According to the National Fire Protection Association, over 25 percent of Christmas tree fires are caused by an electrical problem.

Safety organizations offer these tips for keeping your holidays safe.

Trees and Decorations:

  • When buying a live Christmas tree check for freshness.  A fresh tree is green, its needles are hard to pull from branches, and needles 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.
  • Before placing the tree in a stand, cut two inches from the base of the trunk.
  • When setting up the tree at home, place it at least three feet  away from heat sources, such as fireplaces, vents, and radiators.  Heated rooms rapidly dry out live trees.  Be sure to monitor water levels daily and keep the tree stand filled with water.  Place the tree out of the way of foot traffic, and do not block doorways with the tree.
  • When buying an artificial tree, look for the “fire resistant” label.  Although the label does not mean the tree won’t catch fire, the tree is more resistant to catching fire.
  • If decorating a tree in a home with small children, avoid sharp or breakable decorations. Keep decorations with small, removable parts out of the reach of small children who could swallow or inhale them.
  • Avoid tree trimmings that look like food or candy which may tempt a child or pet to try to eat them.
  • Always turn off Christmas tree lights before going to bed.


  • Keep burning candles within sight and extinguish all candles before leaving the room.
  • Keep candles on a stable, heat resistant surface where children and pets cannot reach them or knock them over.  Place lit candles away from items that can catch fire, such as Christmas trees, decorations, curtains, and furniture.
  • Instead of lit candles, use flameless candles.

Holiday Lights:

  • Only use lights tested for safety by a nationally recognized testing laboratory.  Lights for both indoor and outdoor usage must meet strict standards that testing laboratories are able to verify.
  • Check each set of lights, new or old, for broken or cracked sockets, frayed or bare wires, or loose connections.  Throw out damaged light sets.  Do not use electric lights on metallic trees.
  • Check each extension cord to make sure it is rated for the intended use and is in good condition.  Do not use cords with cuts or signs of fraying.
  • Check outdoor lights for labels showing the lights have been certified for outdoor use and only plug them into a ground-fault-circuit interrupter-protected (GFCI) receptacle or a portable GFCI.


  • Use care with “fire salts” which produce colored flames when thrown onto wood fires.  Fire salts contain heavy metals that can cause intense gastrointestinal irritation and vomiting if swallowed.  Keep away from children.
  • Do not burn wrapping paper in the fireplace.  A flash fire may result because wrapping paper can ignite suddenly and burn intensely.
  • Do not burn trees or wreaths in the fireplace.
  • Use a screen on the fireplace at all times when a fire is burning.
  • Don’t leave fireplaces burning unattended when you are sleeping.

After Christmas:

  • Get rid of the live tree after Christmas or when it is dry.  Dried out trees are a fire danger and should not be left in the home or garage or placed outside against the house.
  • Bring outdoor electrical lights inside after the holidays to prevent hazards and make them last longer.

Safe Holiday Travel:

  • Make sure your car is prepared for winter and have an emergency preparedness kit with you.
  • Get a good night’s sleep before leaving to avoid drowsy driving.
  • Leave early, planning ahead for heavy traffic.
  • Make sure every person in the vehicle is properly buckled up no matter how long or short the trip.
  • Put the cell phone away.
  • Practice defensive driving.
  • Designate a sober driver to make sure everyone makes it home safely.

Holiday Food Safety:

  • Wash hands frequently when handling food.
  • Keep raw meat away from fresh produce.
  • Use separate cutting boards, plates, and utensils for uncooked and cooked meats to avoid cross contamination.
  • Use a food thermometer to make sure meat is cooked to a safe temperature.
  • Refrigerate hot or cold leftovers within two hours of being served.
  • When storing turkey, cut the leftovers into small pieces so they will chill quickly.

Safe Toy Giving:

  • Toys are age rated for safety, not for intellect or physical ability, so be sure to choose toys in the correct age and ability range.
  • For children under three, choose toys that do not have small parts that can be choking hazards.
  • For children under 10, avoid toys that must be plugged into an electrical outlet.
  • Be cautious of toys that have button batteries or magnets, which can be harmful or fatal if swallowed.
  • When giving scooters, bikes, skateboards, or other riding toys, also give the appropriate safety gear.  Helmets, sized to fit, should be worn at all times.

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