A young girl sitting beneath, and looking up at, a holiday tree with an ornament in her hands.

Season’s Greetings: Celebrate the Holidays Safely

’Tis the season for traveling to see family and friends, preparing your home for party guests, and partaking in the festivities. It’s easy to get caught up in the flurry of the holidays and neglect the potential dangers associated with this time of year.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, more than one-third of home fire deaths occur during the months of December, January, and February.1 Sadly, fires involving Christmas trees and other flammable holiday decorations are often more dangerous than the average winter fire and result in twice the injuries and five times more fatalities per fire.2
Naturally, you want your home to be welcoming and showcase your style during the holiday season. But you also want it to be safe for your family and guests. Consider these tips for decorating and celebrating with good sense.

Deck the Halls with Care

  • If you bring a tree into your home, choose the freshest tree you can find and keep it well watered throughout the holiday season. Position the tree away from heat sources, such as a fireplace or a heating vent. When your tree becomes dry, dispose of it promptly and properly.
  • Inspect your holiday lights for frayed wires, bare spots, insulation gaps, broken/cracked sockets, and excessive kinking. Don’t connect more than three strands of lights together unless the directions indicate it is safe. Never leave holiday lights unattended. LED lights generate less heat but require similar safety precautions.
  • Use only nonflammable or flame-retardant decorations, and keep them away from all sources of heat or open flames. Don’t block exits with decorations. Never hang stockings in front of a lit fire or put wrapping paper in the fireplace.
  • Place candles in stable holders, away from flammable materials and in a position where they will not be knocked over. Don’t go to bed or leave home with candles burning, and don’t place candles on or near a Christmas tree. Consider using battery-operated flameless candles.
  • Be careful about your own safety when hanging decorations. Use a sturdy ladder, make sure it is on level ground, have someone act as a spotter and help to stabilize it, and never stand on a higher rung than is recommended by the ladder manufacturer. Stay off the roof — it may be safe for Santa but it’s risky for the rest of us. Inside the house, use a small ladder or step stool rather than standing on the furniture.

Greet Guests with Safety in Mind

  • Make sure that your walkways and porch have adequate lighting and are clear of ice and snow. Salt icy areas before guests arrive. Repair stairs and handrails if necessary.
  • If you are running wires inside or outside for holiday decorations, don’t cross any areas where you or your guests would walk.

Discourage Drinking and Driving

  • If you serve alcohol at a holiday party, take steps to moderate your guests’ drinking and yours, too.
  • Serve food, which helps people absorb alcohol, and have plenty of water and nonalcoholic drinks available.
  • Never encourage guests to drink, and politely ask them to stop if they appear to be inebriated. Never serve alcohol to minors.
  • Stop serving alcohol an hour or two before the end of the party to give your guests time to process the alcohol before they drive. Offer to call a cab or arrange for another driver if it seems unsafe for a guest to drive. If other transportation is not available, allow an inebriated guest to sleep at your home.

Social host liability laws exist in 43 states and may hold homeowners liable for accidents that occur because guests were drinking alcohol on their premises.3 Of course, it shouldn’t matter whether your state has such a law. You want your guests to be safe regardless of where you live.

Review Your Coverage

Safety is a concern at any time of the year, but this might be a good opportunity to check your homeowners insurance policy to make sure you have adequate coverage for your situation. If you entertain often — or have other liability risks such as teenage drivers, a swimming pool, or workers in your home — you might consider an umbrella policy for additional liability protection, especially if you have significant financial assets. Your insurance agent can help evaluate your needs.


1–2) Electrical Safety Foundation International, 2015
3) Insurance Information Institute, 2015

The information in this article is not intended as tax or legal advice, and it may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any federal tax penalties. You are encouraged to seek tax or legal advice from an independent professional advisor. The content is derived from sources believed to be accurate. Neither the information presented nor any opinion expressed constitutes a solicitation for the purchase or sale of any security. This material was written and prepared by Emerald. Copyright 2015 Emerald Connect, LLC.

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