Editorial: Christmas tree tips to keep your home, family safe

The Christmas holidays are a joyous time of celebration. We gather with friends and families to commemorate the birth of Christ. We exchange gifts and participate in countless other holiday traditions.

One of those most enduring traditions is the Christmas tree. While a Christmas tree can be a beautiful centerpiece to your home, it can also be a serious danger as fires caused by electrical malfunctions or other problems can easily start a fire.

Electrical distribution or lighting equipment was involved in almost half of home Christmas tree fires, according to the nonprofit National Fire Protection Association. Almost one in five Christmas tree fires were started by decorative lights -- 8% were started by candles. And about two of every five home Christmas tree fires started in the living room.

Here are tips from the NFPA to ensure the safety of your home and possessions, from choosing a Christmas tree to taking it down after the holidays.

Picking the tree

• Choose a tree with fresh, green needles that do not fall off when touched.

Placing the tree

• Before placing the tree in the stand, cut 2 inches from the base of the trunk.

• Make sure the tree is at least 3 feet away from any heat source, like fireplaces, radiators, candles, heat vents or lights.

• Make sure the tree is not blocking an exit.

• Add water to the tree stand. Be sure to add water daily.

Lighting the tree

• Use lights that are listed by a qualified testing laboratory. Some lights are only for indoor or outdoor use.

• Replace any string of lights with worn or broken cords or loose bulb connections. Read manufacturer's instructions for number of light strands to connect.

• Never use lit candles to decorate the tree.

• Always turn off Christmas tree lights before leaving home or going to bed.

After Christmas

• Get rid of the tree after Christmas or when it is dry. Dried-out trees are a fire danger and should not be left in the home or garage, or placed outside against the home.

• Check with your local community to find a recycling program.

• Bring outdoor electrical lights inside after the holidays to prevent hazards and make them last longer.

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