Safe Holiday Decorating

By Nancy Moffett

Lights, candles, trees…ribbons and bows. That’s what decorating for the holidays brings to mind. But, every year, people are injured; pets are sickened; homes burn and one slip can be a disaster. Let’s resolve to all do our decorating safely this year.


According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), about 12,500 Americans are treated for falls, shocks and cuts that stem from holiday decorating. It’s a common sight in many neighborhoods: people climbing on roofs and ladders to string up holiday lights. Before you get started, here’s good advice from a pro.

Shawn Cressman, co-owner of Cressman’s Lawn & Tree Care, says if you’re doing outside lighting yourself, measure lights to be certain you have the right lengths for each area. Then use the right equipment. “You need the right-size ladders so you can reach all parts,” he says, “without standing on tiptoe. Don’t use junky, old ladders.” Plug in the lights and lay them out in the yard to see what works or doesn’t. Make replacements before you begin. Even though this seems self-evident, use only lights and decorations that are certified for outdoor use. The same goes for extension cords, which should not be strung together.

“Don’t overload cords or circuits Use only outside receptacles or ones in the garage. And, they should be protected by ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs),” Cressman explains. “That way, if there’s a problem, it will trip there instead of inside the house.” If you don’t have GFCIs, you can buy portable ones at an electrical supply house or have them installed by an electrician.

Another thing to remember is, although you may be putting up decorations on a sunny day in November, you’ll be taking them down in the middle of January when the weather can be cold and icy. If you feel at all unsure about do-it-yourself outdoor decorating, firms such as Cressman’s will handle it for you. “We do [decorating] jobs that range from as little as $150 on up to $5,000,” Cressman explains.


Another chilling statistic from the CPSC says candles start about 11,600 fires each year, with 150 deaths, 1,200 injuries and property loss in the millions. Common sense prevails here: if you light a candle, check on it regularly and make sure it’s out before you go to bed or leave the house. The same goes for tree lights, which should also be turned off when you leave the house and before bedtime.

Here are some interesting facts from the National Christmas Tree Association: “According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), approximately one tenth of one percent (0.12%) of residential fires involves a Christmas tree…at NO time can a real Christmas tree START or CAUSE a fire…overloaded electric outlets and faulty wires are the most common causes of holiday fires.”

Roger Unangst, owner of Unangst Tree Farms, agrees. “Christmas tree safety concerns are overrated,” he says. “The more likely cause of a fire is an electrical short.” So make sure the lights and extension cords you use are not frayed or cracked. If they are, replace them with products that bear the mark of a recognized testing lab. As for artificial trees, make sure they are labeled “fire resistant.”

If you love the smell of a fresh tree in your home, keep these tips in mind when you buy. Weber says, bend the needles. They should be pliable and a good green color. If they break, the tree isn’t fresh. Some trees are cut as early as September and shipped from as far as Washington State. Your best bet is to buy directly from a local grower. Besides, taking the family out to the tree farm is one of the holidays’ most precious memories.  Unangst  grows and recommends firs – Douglas, Fraser, Concolor and Canaan – because they stay fresh a minimum of six weeks. If you really want spruce, keep it in the house for a maximum of only two weeks.

Both growers have tips for keeping your tree fresh. When you bring it home, water it at least once a day, as it will absorb water quickly at first. After a few weeks, check it every few days. Use just plain water, Unangst says. An Ohio State University study showed that tree-water additives don’t work any better. And, don’t place the tree in front of a sunny window or near a heat source that will dry it out.

Here’s a new twist on those messy metal tree holders. Many tree farms now offer the pin-stand system. A hole is drilled in the trunk to line up to a 6” tapered pin on the stand. Drop the tree on the pin, and you’re done. The water bucket is separate from the stand, which means easy removal when the holidays are over.


Wright Veterinary Medical Center of Bethlehem advises keeping pets away from Christmas tree water. There may be fertilizer residue that can upset stomachs. And, stagnate tree water contains bacteria that can lead to nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Also keep pets away from ribbons and stringy items, such as tinsel, as they can damage pets’ intestines and could be fatal.

There you have it…from the pros. Have a happy and safe holiday season.

Cressman’s Lawn & Tree Care
1287 Spring Valley Road
Bethlehem, PA 18015

Unangst Tree Farm
7317 Bethlehem-Bath Pike
Bath, PA  18014

Wright Veterinary Medical Center
3247 Wimmer Road
Bethlehem, PA 18020

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