Tis the season... well almost, to be careful

The tree is a must, but make sure it's safe for children and pets and set upright in a good sound position.

Make your days merry and bright this Christmas by ensuring your home is a safe haven.

Christmas is coming, and the hand grenade loaded with tinsel and flash is about to explode all over the house. The madness seems to get earlier every year.

I was nearly strangled with a faux fir garland last year for refusing to decorate until a week before Christmas Day. Still, if there’s one thing we all should be doing (bah-humbug or otherwise) it’s to ensure a safe Christmas season at home with some practical considerations.

We introduce a number of new home hazards through just doing up the house, according to the Red Cross. In Ireland, 70% of accidents involving the under fives, occur at Christmas, and with the frenzy of Santa’s coming, little minds, grown and infant, are simply elsewhere.


* We all have the spaghetti confusion crammed into the failing cardboard box — it’s a festive right of passage. Remove the contents carefully to avoid a prick from orphaned wires and popped lamps.

* Lay out each strand, taking out any twists and check for any fraying in the leads, cracked bulbs, bare wiring or loose plug connections.

* Lights should be stamped with a CE mark and should comply with BSEN 60598-2-20.

* If the incandescent lights are five years old or more, chances are they are ready for the bin. Save yourself 90% of the running costs by electing for low voltage, cool LEDs instead.

* Keep in mind that the number of bulbs in a LED string will be higher to collect those pin points of intense light into a fine show.

* Never attempt to join two sets of different brand lights together or nattily twist up two sets of lights onto the same plug.

* Use an appropriate extension lead with a multi socket that is clearly marked with a CE mark and keep any wiring across the floor well out of the traffic path. Don’t run cables under carpeting, out of sight and getting dangerously warm.

* Puppies, kittens and small children have undeveloped brains and they do chew wiring. Use an RCD (Residual Current Device) for added protection against electrocution, earth faults and other undetected issues with decorative lighting.


* When positioning crawling, jail-break Santas and miles of lighting, recruit an able friend or neighbour to hold your ladder, hand you tools etc. It’s one short reach at the top rung from ho-ho-ho to A&E.

* If you’re really lighting up the parish, a hired outdoor platform is worth consideration.

* Use proper watertight connectors for all outdoor lighting and hang them well out of the wind with the main RCD plug and transformer inside, even if the strands are outside.

* Keep the cables clear of paths that may be dim and dangerous by night.

* NEVER use outdoor lighting indoors.

* If using traditional filament bulbs, change spent bulbs immediately. This prevents the set from over-heating.

* An inflatable reindeer, Santa or delightful carousel is not so delightful once airborne. Use supplied guy ropes, string or bungees to anchor larger outdoor décor in the wind.

* For ultimate safety and energy-efficiency, why not go solar LED outdoors? Because they work as a circuit, there’s no filament or bulb replacement to worry about.

Simply wrap strings or nets of fairy lights around your favourite trees close to the house, and wait for dusk to fall. Good for about 20 hours of visual magic for as much as 50,000 hours.

* Don’t change the bulbs of any mains fed lighting when the set is turned on, and always use the same type and rating.


* Have the chimneys swept and the entire flue from the grate to the chimney pot checked before lighting up that first seasonal blaze and to allow Santa an easy slide down on Christmas night.

* There should be no appearance of smoke upstairs, and if there is, the flue may be leaking through a crack in the masonry, a deadly opportunity for CO poisoning. Have the whole run checked.

* Stoves are the new black in real flame heating, but if you leave the doors open, you not only increase the incidence of sparks and entire logs rolling into the celebrations, but decimate the efficiency of the fire box.

Clean the glass, ensure the cool-wash vents, intended to keep the glass clean, are clear and working and enjoy.

* Install whatever guard necessary to keep your children away from the fire. If this means securing an enclosing frame directly to the wall or giving up on lighting the fire as a decorative accessory altogether, so be it.

* A lighting stove is dangerously hot. Keep young children who could topple towards it away from the scalding fire-box with a guard.

* The Victorians enjoyed a drape or ribbon holding their Christmas cards across the fireplace, and many a 19th century balloon skirt went straight up with it when the whole lot ignited. Don’t hang anything combustible from the mantle.

* Ensure all your fire alarms are working and if you don’t know when the battery was last changed, just change it now. Using the test-button is simply not enough.

* The traditional Christmas candle left burning for Jesus and his family on the windowsill, can be represented with a battery operated unit. If you want a traditional, real-flame candle in the window on Christmas night, ensure there are no curtains or other window dressings anywhere near it. Choose a fat sturdy candle that’s self-supporting and set on a wide dish. Warn older children to keep away from it and supervise the younger ones. Extinguish the candle before going to bed and leave an LED battery fed light in its place.


Be afraid, be berry afraid

ENVIRONMENTAL considerations may propel you towards the inclusion of a fresh tree this year, but even unlit, that lovely fir tree can be a hazard in itself.

Mold growing on aging Christmas trees may be responsible for an increase in respiratory illnesses over the season, a new health concern termed ‘Christmas Tree Syndrome’.

Apparently, airborne spores from a two week old tree holed up in a warm house can upset those with allergic or repertory conditions.

Spores aside, we should all buy the freshest tree possible to avoid needle shed. Give the needles from a discreet lower branch a good tug. Only a few should come off in your hand. Reaching into the trunk, it should have the slightly tacky texture of a new evergreen.

Vacuum up needles that do fall over the Christmas period regularly, as they are poisonous to animals and won’t do your children’s throats and fingers much good either.

If you’re keeping the tree in water (sand will just rot the stem), cover the container edges to dissuade cats and dogs from lapping the toxic, sap heavy water.

If the tree seems unstable, simply fix it to the wall from the leader branch with a wall mounted hook and some garden string. Yes, you’ll have to fill the hole in the New Year, but better that than crowning Aunt Violet with a 8’ Norwegian Spruce. Modern incandescent lights are double insulated and run on low 24 voltages, but as they are used they become increasingly hot. Add a tinder dry, dead Christmas tree around Dec 29 — you get the picture?

If you’re not going LED, at least turn the fairy lights off at night. Glass ornaments break into skin slicing shards with a little pressure. Stick to plastic, wood and resin ornaments if you have toddlers about.

And finally, you can enjoy your Christmas tree.


ALESSI fans will adore the new range of highly European tree ornaments, including this very jolly group of wise men — Balthazar, Melchior and Gaspar.

Mouth blown and hand-decorated, they were designed by Marcello Jori and cost €36 for the set.

The Holy Family, and individual characters ranging from Santa to shooting stars are priced from €24. Alessi.com. Irish stockists include Brown Thomas.

¦ Three wise men by Alessi. €36 for the set.


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