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Keep the season festive — and safe

Published 9:06pm Wednesday, December 12, 2012

This past weekend finally afforded me enough free time to get in some of my pre-Christmas traditions. I baked some Christmas cookies, drank some hot apple cider and — one of my favorite pre-Christmas traditions of all — decorated our Christmas tree.

As far back as I can remember, picking out and decorating a Christmas tree was always a special event in my household. From the trip to the Christmas tree farm, to picking and cutting down the tree to — somehow — managing to cram the often too-big tree into the car, Christmas-tree shopping required commitment.

And that’s not even mentioning clearing out a place of honor in the living room and searching through dust- and spider-covered boxes in the basement for our tub of Christmas decorations. But my memories of the annual event have always been good ones, and when I moved out I vowed to continue the tradition.

While I no longer trek through freezing fields to hunt out the perfect tree, my husband and I do still buy a fresh tree every year. It’s a wonderful tradition that really gets me in the mood for the season.

But I was dismayed to read that a family’s Christmas tradition went up in smoke — and flames — Tuesday night. Officials say that a dry Christmas tree was the flashpoint for a fire that damaged a Bethlehem Street home. Luckily, no one was hurt in the fire, but the event could just as easily have ended in tragedy.

As one who looks forward to my Christmas tree every year, I am completely in favor of celebrating the holidays with festive decorations. But safety should always be a concern.

The Virginia Department of Forestry offers a few suggestions to keep your family safe while still keeping your traditions:

  • Test your smoke detectors before the holiday.
  • Do not use candles on or near the tree.
  • Use UL approved lights.
  • Place the tree away from heat sources, such as fireplaces and heaters.
  • Keep your Christmas tree in a sturdy base filled with water. Check the water level daily.
  • Consider spraying your tree with a flame retardant.
  • Turn off all Christmas lights prior to leaving your home or going to bed.
  • Safely dispose of your tree before it becomes dangerously dry. Never burn the tree or tree parts in your fireplace.

My husband and I purchased several strands of UL approved LED lights a few years ago. They produce virtually no heat when lit and aren’t that much more expensive than normal lights. We purchased ours at Big Lots on the cheap, but most stores have them now.

Of course, you need to turn them off when you go to bed, but at least there’s less chance they could catch your tree on fire when they are lit. For more holiday safety tips, visit www.dof.virginia.gov/fire/safety/safety-christmas.htm.

Christmas is a season of festivities and joy. But keeping a few simple tips in mind while celebrating will help keep this holiday season from being one of tragedy.

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