The origin of the Christmas Tree has been traced back over 1300 years, near the town of Geismar, Germany. It is said that Saint Boniface linked the tree to Christianity for the first time when, felling an Oak to prove that it was not sacred, he toppled it directly into a group of trees, knocking over all but the Fir. A few centuries later, Martin Luther lit a tree with candles to capture for his family what the evergreens looked like when surrounded by stars. Since then, Christmas trees have been synonymous with decorations and lighting of all types. As we leap into the spirit of the holiday season this year, let’s reflect a little on some of the things we’ve learned about safety during these celebrations.

It’s extremely dangerous to use lit flames on or near a Christmas tree, and heat from holiday lights can be enough to start needles burning, especially if not watered regularly. If you choose a live Christmas tree to celebrate, there are a few things to know before you relax around your tree.

The first is how live the tree really is. Some of these trees may have been cut down weeks or even a month in advance. Although they might look alive, check them before you buy. If a tree is starting to turn brown around the edges or the pine needles fall off the tree easily to the touch or gentle shake, keep looking! When you find the right tree, don’t bring it into your house until you’re ready to use it, and cut off a section of the trunk 1-2″ from the base for better water absorption. Keep the tree away from heat sources, outlets, and clear from doors and exits. It may look good aesthetically, but would trap you inside if it burned. Remember to water your tree daily, newly placed trees will absorb up to a gallon a day in some cases, and will dry out quickly unless regularly “fed”.

Always check your decorations before putting them on the tree. Light strings should be checked to ensure they’re working, don’t leave empty sockets where burned out bulbs were removed. Look for cracked or frayed wiring, and plug them in for 10 minutes to check for smoldering bulbs before placing them on your tree. All your lights should be UL listed and approved, and never use electric lights or ornaments on a metal tree. Be sure to turn your lights off when you aren’t at home, and make sure extension cords and wall outlets aren’t overloaded. Keep the cords away from where people move around to prevent tripping, and never cover them with a rug or carpet, that will trap the heat and could lead to damage by people standing, walking, or moving furniture over them.

How many lights are too many? The US Fire Administration recommends no more than three light strands be linked together at one time. Consider a ground fault power strip or extension cord between your outlet and the strings as an extra precaution. Newer LED lights can be attached in longer strings, but check the manufacturers’ recommendations before using them!

Make sure your ornaments, and indeed your tree (if it’s artificial), are fire resistant/ flame retardant. Many artificial trees kept for more than a decade or more might not be. Finally, check your smoke detector and make sure it is working properly. It’s your first line of defense if something gets overlooked! Be sure, be safe!

Think for a moment about the items under your tree this year too. If the gift you give or get has a registration card included, fill it out and send it in! From power tools to car seats, many items today end up being recalled by the manufacturer due to defects, some of which could be hazardous. Sometimes those cards are the only way for them to contact you. The cards are always postage paid, a stroke of the pen could save you a lot of grief later. If your worried about toys or aren’t sure if they’re safe for your children, check with the Consumer Product Safety Commission. They can be reached by phone at (800) 638-2772, via e-mail, or check their website at Never burn your wrapping paper and refuse either…throw it away instead!

What can be the Fire Service’s favorite holiday celebration is a little wreath you may notice just outside your local fire department, with all red lights lit. We remove a red bulb each time there’s a holiday-related fire. The Norwood Park Fire Department hopes you’ll give us the gift of one more Christmas in the red. We wish you and your family the very happiest of the Holidays!”