Holiday Decoration Safety - Candle Burning Safety

Here are some practical holiday decoration safety tips, especially for fire safety dealing with candles.

DISCLAIMER: These holiday decoration safety tips are NOT all-inclusive. Nobody can think of every possible danger in every possible circumstance, so it's up to you to learn about fire safety, child safety, and other types of safety, and to use your head and common sense as well.

WARNING: I am putting these practical safety tips here in good faith. I am not an expert in fire safety. These safety tips may or may not work in your circumstances. Get advice from experts as to what are the best practices. Do your own research. Observe your local laws, regulations, and ordinances. You assume full liability and responsibility for your actions.

There are Many Holiday Safety Issues

Around the holidays, there are so many safety issues. Health Safety, Food Safety, Child Safety, Toy and Small Object Safety, Travel Safety, Electrical Safety, and the list goes on and on.

One of the biggest is Fire Safety. Fire can quickly cause loss of life or serious hurt and injury, damage or loss to home and property, and more. It is definitely something to avoid, especially during the holidays.

There is a need for holiday decoration safety especially for candles, because there are so many flammable materials being used with the candles, including highly flammable evergreens and pine cones, ribbons, paper, wood, string, and plastic ornaments, or artificial trees, flowers, and greenery, to name a few.

There are many different holiday candle traditions and customs.

Advent Wreath and Christmas Wreath Candle Traditions

Advent wreaths with candles are a custom in many families, schools, and churches.

At Christmas, many of these advent wreaths are converted into Christmas wreaths, and often left up for the Christmas season, which is some traditions, is 40 days long.

The evergreens can get very dry and flammable, and become a fire hazard.

In church, the candles may be lit for an entire church service. In the home, or in the home, for an entire meal. Or, it's easy to get doing something, and forget to put the candles out.

Church Sanctuary Candle Traditions

Some church services can last an hour or more.

Many churches and sanctuaries use candles during every service throughout the year.

I have seen some services - such as weddings and funerals - with 60-100 candles in the sanctuary, on tall and short standing candelabra (multiple candle holders), and a lot of heat can come off them, and they can burn up quite a bit of oxygen.

Not counting many votive racks of candles that people light especially during the holidays, which can be anywhere from several dozen to several hundred, or in bigger churches, even several thousand.

Church Festival Candle Traditions

There are events where the choir is singing with lit candles.

Or the children process into church with lit candles in their hands.

Holiday Decoration Safety - Jewish Holiday Candle Traditions

There is a beautiful Jewish holiday custom of the menorah during the 8-day Hanukkah festival. The menorah is an 8 branched candlestick, with a 9th branch for the candle to light the others with, so as more and more candles are lit during the festival, that can add up to a lot of lit candles close to one another.

Las Posadas and Luminarias

There are Spanish, Mexican, and Latin American traditions of carrying candles in the Las Posadas gatherings going from house to house, to commemorate Joseph and Mary looking for room when they arrived in Bethlehem.

Then there are the luminarias, candles in bags partially filled with dirt and set outside in rows around streets, roads, driveways, paths, and the top of buildings.

Family Candle Traditions

In many families, there are customs, often time-honored traditions passed on from generations, of lit candles on special festive occasions - like birthday.

While these customs are beautiful, ..... we must take care to avoid the danger of fire.

Candle-Lit Celebration Precautions

Dinner by candle-light! What a special occasion. It even sounds good. It can bring back memories, and make new ones.

  • Candles are often used on birthday cakes.
  • Candles can be a nice touch to your Thanksgiving feast.
  • Placed in the Advent wreath, they can help us celebrate Advent
  • They can bring Christmas cheer, warmth and light to your table
But remember. Every lit candle is simply a little fire.

And, without careful precautions, any fire, no matter how small a spark, can get out of control, grow bigger, and destroy lives and property.

And with the right conditions, a fire can grow faster than you can react.

So this is certainly a case of where a good ounce of prevention is worth many pounds of cure.

Danger of House Fire

Years ago I read in a book, I don't remember where, how a man was traveling in winter through the upper Mid West of the United States of America in the mid-1900's. That year it was much colder than normal, with temperatures staying sub-zero Fahrenheit.

In many towns he saw - unusually - many black skeletons of houses that had been burnt with fire. Just going through one town he counted 11, I think it was.

You would think with all that snow and all that cold, it would be harder for fires to burn than in the hot summer.

The answer? Most people had wood stoves. Because it was so cold, people put more fuel into their stoves just to stay warm, the stoves burned hotter, and the heat caused more fires, such as chimney fires, stove fires, house fires.

DON'T play with Fire

  • Don't play with fire. Don't allow others to play with fire. Some children (and "grown-ups") are attracted to fire. It is an attractive nuisance. Consider not lighting candles with some small children around, that you cannot keep under your control and supervision.
  • Do you think a child is too small to climb on the table and reach for the flame and/or tip over the candle(s)? Think again. Some children are so strong willed they will build a way, such as setting up chairs. And they know just when to do it when you're not watching.

Preparations BEFORE You Light the Candle(s)

  • Make sure candles are solidly in their holder. Make sure the candle holders themselves are solid and heavy enough with a wide enough base to not tip over. Take care of the type of material the candles are on. Wax can run down, make a mess, and fire can follow the drip.
  • Any bumping the table can lead to potential disaster. Playing or running children can bump even a large solid table quite hard, and send candles tipping over.
  • Do not put candles near walls, or any combustible items.
  • Especially, do not put candles near windows with curtains. This is one very easily overlooked. For example, if it gets stuffy, someone may open the window, a sudden breeze may come up, the curtains may blow on, over, or near the candle flame, and can quickly catch on fire. Breezes can come from an open window even far away, someone walking by, something dropping, or even someone walking through a door, even at a distance.
  • Never trust a curtain, table cloth, or similar object to be safe even if the label states it contains or is fire retardant or fireproof. Washing, leaching, aging, sunlight, storage can all erode it, and with enough heat, anything can and will burn.
  • Never light candles in a small enclosed area, such as a camp trailer or mobile home. Candles can quickly use up the oxygen in a small area. Many older camp trailers and mobile homes have highly flammable paneling on the walls, have plastic trim, or even plastic panel coating, and can be an extreme fire hazard. Instead, consider using electric or battery candle lights, and even then, observe all electrical safety measures.

Match and Lighter Safety

  • Keep matches, lighters, or whatever you use to light the candle(s) very far - impossibly far - out of reach of small children.
  • Learn match and lighter safety. Teach older children how to properly use matches, lighters, etc. and to NEVER play with such items.
  • Put out the match flame carefully. Watch your fingers, the flame can burn down too close to your fingers, causing you to make sudden unexpected reactions, like dropping the burning match.
  • Make sure the flame is out. Put the match in a fireproof receptacle. Don't just throw it out into the trash. A small unseen spark can still smolder and cause fire.

Be Vigilant while Lighting Candles

  • Use great care when lighting candles. Watch for any flying sparks. Don't strike a match, light a candle, and then immediately turn your back. A small spark can smolder, then quickly light a table cloth, evergreens, paper and other combustible materials.
  • Watch yourself. NEVER lean over a match, a lighter, or over a candle to light it. There MUST be plenty of room and space above and around any flame. By leaning over, you can catch your hair, your clothes, etc on fire, or you may get burned, or your eyes may get heat or smoke damage.
  • Watch your eyes. Sparks from matches and lighters can go into your eyes. The heat and smoke from a flame, which normally goes up, can follow other paths such as a breeze, and can go directly from any flame into your eye, so avoid your eyes being too close to the flame. Never be over the flame. If you can't see because of eye damage, where would you put down the match and how would you see enough to put it out and to know that it is out?
  • Watch your fingers, arms and hands. When lighting, you are dealing with at least 2 fires, one on the match or lighter, and another one for each candle being lit, and your fingers, hands and arms may be very close to the flames. Worse, if you should get burnt, your first reaction may be to jump around, throw the match in any direction, and bump the table, knock the candles over, etc.
  • Watch your clothes. Loose long sleeves can fall or slide down your arms right over the flames.
  • Watch your hair. Hair can quickly burn, especially if you use dyes or hairspray. Hair, especially longer hair, can fall into the wax or flames, or can knock candles over.
  • Watch your headgear. As you lean to light candles, headwear such as a veil, hat, baseball cap can fall forward or off into the flame, or it could knock one or more candles over.
  • Watch your eyeglasses! This is especially tricky and dangerous, because if you need your glasses to see, if they start falling off, or fall completely off...
    • You may not be able to see well where your match or lighter is, or where you are putting it, at least to see well enough to properly put it out
    • OR, your reaction may be to bring one or both of your hands back up to your face with the lit match or lighter to keep your glasses from falling off or put them back in place
    • OR, your reaction may be to go after your glasses trying to catch them before they fall or break
    • OR, your glasses may fall into a candle, spilling the wax or knocking the candle over.

Be Vigilant with Lit Candles

  • Never leave burning candles unattended. Stay observant. Keep burning candles in view at all times.
  • Never reach across or near the candles. Avoid the possibility of knocking over candles, and hot melted burning wax going anywhere. Candle flames can burn you. Candle flames can light your clothes on fire.
  • Never pass paper items across or near the flames. The Christmas card or letter you are sharing may catch fire, or worse.
  • IF opening gifts, make very sure your gift wrapping items such as boxes, wrapping paper, and ribbons and bows are kept under complete control away from lit candles. These items are light and can suddenly move in a breeze into the flame and quickly catch fire.

Be Vigilant Putting Out Candles

  • Use great care putting out the candles. It's best to use a good snuffer. You do not want to blow the flame into combustible materials.
  • After extinguishing candles, wait some time to be sure they are really out. Dead out.
  • Don't move any candles until after the wax has completely cooled and hardened. When it starts to harden, it may look like it has just hardened, but often it is still melted just underneath, and can still be very hot, and can still spill over.

I've Seen Fire Can Do Strange Things

Fire can be very unpredictable.

Several times in my life, I have seen a candle wick smolder for some time, even several minutes and then relight! And no, they weren't trick birthday candles!

The first time I remember this happened, was one morning when I was in 7th Grade, in the classroom with my classmates. The Advent wreath hung towards the back of the classroom. It was somebody's turn to light it, and then we stood for our daily Advent prayers and song. When we finished, the candles were put out. And then we sat down for class, opening books.

After several minutes, one of the candles re-lit. Our teacher thought that the one putting them out had left one of them lit, or that someone had re-lit the candle without permission as a bad prank. He was reasonably upset because of the danger of fire.

Most in the class hadn't paid attention, because they were busy getting ready for class. I was in the row closest to the Advent Wreath.

Luckily, several of us, me included, had watched it smoke and smoke and then a flame jumped out, and we were able to tell our teacher exactly what we saw.

Maybe, the reason I kept looking at the smoke was for me to tell this story years and years later, to help you realize the danger of fire, even from a candle you think is out, and to help you take every reasonable precaution possible. Who knows, it may help save someone's life.

My Father's Story about Fire

When my father was a boy, he remembers the German custom of lit candles on the Christmas tree. Every child and adult present had to watch one specific candle when they were lit. I'm assuming they weren't lit very long.

It's a good thing that electrical Christmas lights came into use, because candles on the tree are very unsafe, and were the cause of many fires. But even with electrical lights, there are many safety precautions to take, like turning off the Christmas tree lights whenever you leave the house.

Another Sad Fire Story with Real Heroes

As a teenager and young man, my father served on the volunteer fire department. One night when he was 15 years old, there was a big hospital fire in a neighboring town 7 miles away. Crews came from many towns, some over 60 miles away, to help evacuate the patients and try to put out the fire.

They worked from midnight to about 4 or 5am. The water pressure was low because of the demand. My father's job was at a switch valve, to send water when one crew demanded it at a critical moment, and then to the other crew when they needed more water.

They saved the boiler room, nobody could get into it because the waist deep water around it was boiling. But if they hadn't kept it cool, it would have blown with 500 gallons of propane. And the saying was, if the boiler had blown, every family for miles around would have lost 1-3 men, since hundreds of them were fighting the fire.

The other thing they saved was the nurses quarters, which was attached to the hospital. It ended up being the temporary hospital for 5 or 6 years until the rebuilt hospital was put into operation. It is the only hospital in that area for many, many miles.

Much was learned from that fire long ago, and many changes were made in the fire safety regulations of hospitals in the entire country, especially how hospitals are built.

Sadly, 77 people lost their lives, including 11 babies. There were many heroes who went back in and died trying to save the people inside.

Come to think of it, they're real stars, worthy of mention on this website,

The Name of the Hospital is now St Anthony Memorial Hospital in Effingham, Illinois. The fire started just before midnight on April 4, 1949.

My father said you could see the glow 7 miles away. Next day in school the teacher let the boys who fought the fire sleep in class with their heads on the desk.

And my father said that he helped put out as many as 5 fires in one day. They lived in a farming district, and many times they saved houses, barns, and vehicles from being destroyed. And many times they tried, but couldn't.

Angels and Wisdom

It's so easy to get into the holiday spirit, surrounded by family and friends, that it's easy to forget the danger. Sure, we shouldn't go overboard or become paranoid, but on the other hand, we shouldn't become lax either.

We must take every reasonable safety precaution. And then, pray to the Holy Angels for their protection of our lives, our children, and our property.

It is also a good idea to pray to the Holy Spirit for guidance. Sometimes, we get a little interior prompting. Sometimes, we should act on it right away before we forget.

We Need Reminding - and Good Habits

It's easy to leave the stove on, Christmas tree lights on when we go out, and even leave candles burning.

But, it takes only one time forgetting, for things to go wrong. That's why we need good reminders.

We also need to form good safety habits, like eliminating clutter and never blocking doors.

Someday, your life may depend on getting out of the house safely in total darkness.

Being Prayerful - and Practical

It's important to be prayerful, but we can't neglect the practical, such as taking proper safety precautions around candle fire.

It may be an important custom for you to have candles lit at your prayer altar. But safety is also important.

It would be presumptuous to think God will take care of safety just because you asked him to. You and I have to also do our part.

Christian homes and churches can burn down as easily as pagan ones, as you'll see in the stories below.

Fire Stories Close to Home

I'm thinking of some fires that came real close to home.

  • When I was going into 3rd grade, we moved from another state to attend a private school. We lived in a hotel for a few weeks until we bought a house. My parents drove all of us children to school each day. Other students arrived by bus. During the first week, one day we arrived at school to see one of the major school buildings burning. Outside the building looked fine, lots of smoke, but one upper story window had dark orange smokey flames. The outside looked fine except for black smoke, but inside it was probably very close to flash point. It then quickly burned to the ground, thankfully, no lives were lost. My Dad pitched in to help right away, but there was little that could be done. I remember us many students kneeling and praying aloud further down the hill. All that was left of the building was fallen, twisted and melted metal on a cement pad.
  • One day during school several years later, some of our classmates came to school out of uniform. Their house had burned down during the night and they lost everything.
  • Another family that went to our church, the father woke up in the night in time to see the house burning down. The only reason the children were saved was because they instantly obeyed their father, who told them to immediately get out of the house. The parents could not go back to get them, and luckily none of the children stopped to get a coat or change their clothes. They came out in their pajamas. They wouldn't have made it otherwise.
  • We have some neighbors who have a farm and large family. One day a burn barrel tipped over, caught some grass on fire, the wind picked up and drove it to the house, and their house completely burned.
These stories happened years ago when I was still in grade school.

2 Stories of Fire Because of Candles

  • One of my older brothers told me the story of a lady who had a fire because of a candle lit on her private prayer alter. The wax melted down on a dish, broke the dish, melted into the decorations, and caught on fire.
  • Another of my older brothers told me a fellow worker of his - who I vaguely know from many years ago - was at a fancy restaurant with a candle lit on each table. I think it was their company Christmas party. My brother's coworker was unwrapping a gift. The gift was a tree ornament, and as a gag, it was wrapped in many layers of gift wrapping. His coworker kept unwrapping the box, and he kept putting the wrappings to the side near a chair as he was unwrapping it. The pile grew and grew, and suddenly before anyone knew it, the whole thing caught on fire. Luckily, they were able to get it out.

Safety - As we Get Older

As we get older, there are things we may have to give up doing, for the sake of safety. For example, we can more easily fall down and hurt ourselves. Our bones can be more fragile and more easily break, and our bodies don't repair as easily.

We may be losing our eyesight and have to give up driving the car - for our own good and the safety of others.

And we may be losing our memory. Most of us don't like to admit it. But if we start leaving candles lit, and lights on, and other little safety issues, maybe it's time to give up some of our cherished customs for our own greater good, and maybe sooner than later.

I hope it's not "later" as in "the-house-burned-down" later, or worse, "someone's-6-feet-under" later.

A better option might be electric candles.

A Little Planning Goes a Long Way

Plan with your family what to do in an emergency. Have an emergency exit plan. Know where the fire extinguisher is and how to use it. There are many excellent training programs, videos, books, and other material available. Check with your local school and local fire department.

I truly wish each and every one of you truly safe and happy holidays.

Thank your stars!

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