Decorate Carefully for Christmas

Celebrate the holidays without creating a fire hazard

Churches seldom look more beautiful than when they're decorated for the holidays. Candles, lights, and greenery add splendor to the celebration of Christ's birth. These decorations can have a downside—faulty lights or unattended candles can quickly set a church on fire.

Follow these safety tips for holiday decorations to reduce the risk of fire:

Check Fire Codes

Ask your local or state fire marshal:

  • If churches in your area may use live cut trees in holiday displays.
  • If any fire codes govern what type of decorations churches may use and where they may be displayed.

Choose Tree Carefully

  • Buy a freshly cut tree. Needles should feel soft and springy and shouldn't fall off.
  • Treat the tree with a flame retardant approved by your state fire marshal.
  • Cut one inch off the bottom of the trunk and place the tree in a sturdy, large-capacity stand with plenty of water.
  • Keep the tree moist. Dry evergreens can ignite quickly if they're exposed to heat, electrical sparks, or open flames.
  • Display your tree no longer than 14 days.
  • Verify that artificial trees are made of flame-resistant materials.

Beware of Candles

  • Use candles carefully and sparingly.
  • Keep candles at least a tree's height away from any Christmas tree.
  • Extinguish all candles when leaving the sanctuary.
  • Keep candles away from decorations and other combustible materials.
  • Use sturdy candleholders that aren't likely to tip over.
  • Never use candles to decorate a Christmas tree. 
  • Use flameless, LED candles wherever possible.

Inspect Lights

  • Use tree lights and holiday lighting approved and labeled by a nationally recognized testing company.
  • Check all electrical decorations for fraying or exposed wires. If defects are found, cut off the plug and discard the decoration.
  • Turn off all holiday lighting when the building is vacant.
  • Never use staples or nails to secure the wiring of outdoor lights.
  • Don't link more than three light strands together, unless package directions indicate it's safe.
  • Be careful not to overload outlets and extension cords.

Enjoy the Season

As carols fill your church this holiday season, take time to appreciate the history of your building and the people who have worshiped there before you. By keeping safety in mind, you can preserve this treasure for generations to come.

Learn More

The U.S. Fire Administration offers more tips on holiday fire prevention, including this infographic and video clips showing how quickly a live Christmas tree can become fully engulfed in flames.