If you think about it, Christmas decorations are odd. We bring a tree inside, put up lights outside. All those lights are festive and pretty and everything, but they can also be dangerous. When you combine a dead, dry tree with electricity or expose strings of electric lights to snow and cold, things could easily go wrong.
There are several simple, common sense things you can do to make your decorations safer. We’ll cover those in a just a little bit. First though, we gotta do that thing we love to do and hit you with some background info.
Who put up the first Christmas tree?
Like most history, no one knows exactly when the first Christmas tree appeared, but there are several stories. One particularly famous story alleges that Martin Luther started the tradition in the 16th century. According to this story, Martin Luther became inspired when he happened to see starts twinkling through the branches of a tree. The stars in the tree reminded him of the Star of Bethlehem. To inspire his family, he cut down a tree, brought it into his home and added candles to replicate the stars.
That’s a good story, but there’s also evidence that Christmas trees appeared well before Luther. As early as 1570 (or maybe 1441, who knows?), in Riga, Latvia, the Brotherhood of Blackheads guild put a small tree in the guild-house. They decorated this tree with “apples, nuts, dates, pretzels and paper flowers” so their children could collect the dainties on Christmas Day.
Whatever you take away from these stories, we’d advise against “replicating the stars” the way Martin Luther did. Lighting candles and sticking them in a dead tree is a really good way to burn your home down. Electric lights are obviously safer, but they can be dangerous too. If you don’t take the proper safety precautions with your decorations, you increase the chance of an electrical fire.
Safety starts with the bulbs.
How to Decorate Safely This Holiday Season
- Use LED lights, NOT incandescent bulbs. Where Incandescent bulbs get hot, LED lights stay cool. This will lower your risk of fire. LED lights are also much more energy efficient, which will save you money.
- If you’re putting up lights outside, use lights made for outdoor use. Look for indications that lights are made for outdoor use on their packaging.
If you can’t find that info, check for the Underwriters Laboratories (UL) label. A Green label means your lights are meant for indoor use only. Red labels mean you can use them inside and out.
- Use the right extension cords. A good one for Christmas lights is 25 feet long, can handle 1-13 amps, and is 16 gauge. You know the cord is rated for outdoor use if it has the designation letter “W.”
- Avoid damaging your decorative lights’ cords. Make sure the cords aren’t pinched in doors, windows, or under heavy furniture. You also want to protect the light strings. Make sure you don’t mount them in a way that might damage the insulation.
- Use ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCI) outlets. They regulate electrical currents running through them. If there’s a short in the circuit connected to the GFCI outlet, the outlet cuts off the current. This will help prevent electrical fires and other danger.
- If you have a ton of lights, avoid overloading electrical outlets with too many devices. Plug different light strings different outlets and circuits. Never connect more than three strands of incandescent lights together. They can overheat and cause a fire.
- Determine how many outlets are available and where they are before your start decorating.
- Inside, a good way to help prevent a fire is to buy a tree that looks healthy. Be sure to water it every day. No tree is fire-proof, but a fresh tree is less likely to start on fire than a dry tree.
- You could also buy a fire-resistant artificial tree. Be sure to not get one that’s made of metal. If there’s a short, metal could conduct electricity.
- Every single year before you put up the lights, make sure they’re unplugged. Inspect them for cracked bulbs, loose insulation, or frayed wires. Any of those can start a fire. If you have a broken string, throw it away.
- Lay your lights on the ground and make sure that they all work before installing them. Look over every bulb on your string, checking for flickering or dead bulbs. You don’t want to be wrapping the lights around the tree when you find out they don’t work.
- Don’t use too many lights. A gazillion lights in a small area could cause an electrical fire.
- To stay safe and save money, turn off all indoor and outdoor electrical decorations before leaving home or going to sleep. You might want to use a timer.
As you can see, it’s pretty easy to keep it safe when using Christmas lights. Of course, if you choose to decorate your tree with candles, have a fire extinguisher handy.
Good luck, happy holidays, Merry Christmas, be safe.