Boy hanging decorations on a Christmas tree
Kids need careful supervision around holiday decorations — metal ornament hooks, electrical plugs and ladders can cause serious injuries.

The holiday season comes around just once a year, and decorations make it truly special. You might simply hang a wreath on the door. Or maybe you go all-out with multiple trees, exterior lights and a life-size crèche in the front yard. However you decide to decorate, we can all follow these pointers to keep ourselves and our families safe.

Candles can cause holiday fires

Candles smell great and cast a pretty light. They are also miniature fires and can easily set your home ablaze, potentially causing injuries and fatalities. In the month of December, there are almost three times as many home fires that begin with candles compared to the rest of the year.

  • Keep candles on a stable surface so they can’t be knocked over.
  • Candles should not be positioned near curtains, Christmas trees or other decorations.
  • Don’t leave lighted candles unattended.
  • Candles aren’t toys — keep them away from children and pets.

Fire safety shouldn’t take a vacation over the holidays. Working smoke alarms cut the chances of dying in a home fire in half. Have and practice a home fire escape plan. Have a fire extinguisher and learn how to use it in this 21-second video.

Use a properly positioned ladder to avoid falls

When making time for holiday tasks, you might be tempted to cut corners on safety. It only takes a minute or two to find and set up a stepladder when hanging decorations indoors. Don’t stand on chairs or tables to hang decorations.

Choose the right ladder when stringing lights and hanging decorations, both indoors and out. The lifetime odds of dying in a fall are 1 in 119, but you can beat those odds by following ladder safety recommendations such as using ladders on solid, flat surfaces and stopping outside work if it’s windy.

Ladders are magnets for children — they love to climb. Never leave a ladder unattended where a child could use it, inside or outside, and be sure children know that ladders are off limits.

Hazards can be hidden on the tree

The sparkle of lights and reflective glass ornaments make a Christmas tree breathtaking, but they can be hazardous if not displayed properly.

  • Decorate the tree with kids and pets in mind; place ornaments that are breakable or have metal hooks toward the top.
  • Before plugging light strands in, inspect them for exposed or frayed wires, loose connections or broken sockets. Don’t try to repair damaged lights — replace them.
  • Follow package instructions for the number of light strings that can be plugged into one socket.
  • “Angel hair,” made from spun glass, can irritate your eyes and skin; always wear gloves to handle it, or substitute non-flammable cotton.

Think differently about household poisons

It’s a myth that poinsettias are deadly, but you still want to keep them away from children and pets. (Is this the year to invest in artificial poinsettias you can find at the local craft store, and enjoy decorating with them for years to come?)

Poisoning potential is more likely to come from the button batteries in new toys and gifts, or children ingesting medications, alcohol or cleaning agents they find around the house. It’s a good idea at any time of year to keep the National Capital Poison Center phone number on the fridge, (800) 222-1222.

The National Safety Council wishes you and yours a very happy, healthy and safe holiday season!


  • Tammy Franks

    National Safety Council senior program manager for home and community safety

    Tammy Franks is a senior program manager for home and community safety with the National Safety Council, and has worked in the injury prevention field for over 20 years. In addition to her work with NSC, she serves as the chairperson of the National Child Passenger Safety Board.