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Patty Puline, Safe Kids Coordinator
Erie County Dept of Health

In addition to food, family, and gifts, decorations are one of the reasons that many look forward to the holiday season. While candles, Christmas trees, and other decorations are part of the holiday spirit, they can pose fire and poisoning hazards, especially to curious children. Safe Kids Erie remind parents and caregivers to take a few precautions when decorating for Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and other festivities.

Wintertime is the most dangerous time of the year for injuries and deaths from fire. Each year, approximately 450 children ages 14 and under die in residential fires; children under the age of 5 are at the greatest risk. Never leave lit candles unattended. Don’t put candles on, around, or near a tree or a natural wreath, or near curtains or drapes, and keep matches and lighters locked out of reach of children. Pay attention, put down the cell phone, and watch the kids!

  • Battery-operated flameless candles are an alternative that does not have a fire risk. Decorative lighting should be labeled with the seal of an independent testing lab and should only be used outdoors if it’s labeled for outdoor use.
  • Never leave a lighted Christmas tree or other decorative lighting display unattended. Inspect lights for exposed or frayed wires, loose connections, and broken sockets. Do not overload extension cords or outlets and do not run an electrical cord under a rug.
  • Natural Christmas trees always involve some risk of fire. To minimize the risk, get a fresh tree and keep it watered at all times. Do not put the tree within three feet of a fireplace, space heater, radiator, or heat vent.
  • Decorate with children in mind. Do not put ornaments that have small parts or metal hooks, or look like food or candy, on the lower branches where small children can reach them. Trim protruding branches at or below a child’s eye level, and keep lights out of reach.
  • Do not burn Christmas tree branches, treated wood, or wrapping paper in a home fireplace.

Safe Kids also offers these tips to prevent poisoning:

  • Keep alcohol (including baking extracts) out of reach and do not leave alcoholic drinks unattended.
  • Color additives used in fireplace fires are a toxic product and should be stored out of reach. Artificial snow can be harmful if inhaled, so use it in a well-vented space.
  • Mistletoe berries, Holly Berry and Jerusalem Cherry can be poisonous. If they are used in decorating, make sure children and pets cannot reach it.
  • In a poison emergency, call the national Poison Control Center at 800-222-1222.