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Advice for a happy -- and safe -- holiday

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Here are a few tidbits of holiday savvy that we hope will save you loads of heartache as you shop for this year's freshly cut tree. Keep in mind that we like freshly cut trees, but we also suggest that you consider a live tree and a synthetic one as well.

No matter how often you have put up a tree it is important to read this list.

A real tree should not lose green needles when you tap it on the ground. Hold it upright and slam the trunk on the ground. Loose needles mean the tree is already drying out. Not a good thing.

Be sure to cut at least one inch off the trunk just before you put it into the tree stand. If you are distracted and dont get it into the water within a few minutes, make another slice. The cut begins to seal with sap almost immediately after it has been cut. This procedure will help the tree absorb water. A well watered tree will stay fresher longer.

Leave the tree outside until you are ready to decorate. The air in your home is heated and will begin to dry the tree out.

The tree stand that you use should hold at least one gallon of water. If you sliced off the bottom of the trunk and placed it in the water you will notice that the tree will absorb about a quart of water before you go to bed. A 6-foot tall tree will use about a gallon of water every two days.

If you really want to keep your tree moist and safe, add a commercial preservative with the water. And, make sure to check the water level every day. If the water is completely absorbed and the stand goes dry, the base of the tree will then seal up and watering after that point will not be as effective.

If possible, it is wise to secure your tree with wire to keep it from tipping. The finest wire is all that is needed and normally wont be seen by most people. High tensile fishing line also can be used.

Keep your tree away from all sources of heat such as floor heaters and fireplaces. Use only UL-listed lights. The one thing you don't want is an electrical fire. And please, don't use more than three strands linked together -- ever. Miniature lights, which have cool-burning bulbs, are safer to use because they wont dry the tree out and they will save you money by using less energy.

Turn off the Christmas lights before you go to bed, or if you leave your home. Even low voltage, low energy lights can start a fire.

Never use candles, even on artificial trees. Raw flames are a definite no-no.

Finally, dispose of your tree properly. Contact your local disposal company if you aren't notified in advance of what to do.

When we suggested that candles should not be used in a Christmas tree we didn't mean to suggest that they shouldn't be used at all. Candles can be a great mantle or table decoration on a cold holiday evening. However, we do suggest a few precautions when working with and enjoying open flames:

When using candles, place them a safe distance from combustibles.

Be sure to mount candles in sturdy containers. Remember, hot wax burns.

It is absolutely necessary to extinguish candles before going to bed or before leaving the house.

Stay on the ball when you use your fireplace. The ashes should always be put into a metal container until cold ice cold!

Be sure to have a fire extinguisher ready and handy. Before the holiday season begins, make sure that the pressure is up to snuff and that the date hasn't expired.

Think safety outside too. Remember, water and electricity dot mix.

Use only outdoor lights outside your home. They may not be perfect but they are much safer than interior lights would be. Examine light strings each and every year. Look really close and discard the ones that are worn or tattered.

Fasten each bulb securely and be sure to point each socket facing downward. This will help to avoid unnecessary moisture build-up.

Just as with indoor lights, never connect more than three strands of lights together and never use indoor extension cords outside.

It really is important to keep outdoor electrical connectors above ground and out of puddles and snow.

And whatever you do, remember to unplug the light string before replacing a bulb. Wrap a plastic bag around each electrical connection and tie the ends with Teflon tape.

You cant be careful enough when connecting light strands.

And, that's all there is to it for a safe and happy holiday season.
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