Growing up, my dad spent Christmas in Germany. He still remembers the twinkle of their candle-lit tree. He also remembers that time a candle fell, the branch caught fire, and the entire tree went up in flames. Luckily, nobody was hurt, but the living room carpet was never the same.
Putting real candles on a Christmas tree might be a festive tradition, but it's also a serious fire risk. I've consulted expert decorators and safety specialists, who all agree that there are safer and more stylish ways to illuminate your tree.
You could pick up a pack of vintage-inspired holiday lights, or invest in a set of LEDs. A premium pre-lit Christmas tree resembles the real thing, without the fire hazards or hassle of decorating. If you'd like to experiment with Christmas light ideas, and you're keen to incorporate candles, you could create your own festive centerpiece.
Can you put real candles on a Christmas tree?
It's less of a question of 'can', and more of a matter of 'should' − while it's possible to put real candles on a Christmas tree, it might not be worth the risk. All it takes is a gentle knock or a gust of wind, and your Christmas could go up in flames.
Interior designer Stefan Bucur understands the timeless appeal of real candles on a Christmas tree. He respects the risk, too, but believes that 'you can decrease the chances of a fire by placing the candles away from the tree's branches or any decorations that can easily catch fire. Candles should be set at the ends of branches and away from the center of the tree to minimize contact with the tree itself'.
If you're determined to decorate with real candles, you should invest in a set of specialized candle holders. You can pick up a pack of 20 from Amazon for less than a dollar per piece. Stefan says that 'these candles should clamp onto the tree branches and hold the candles upright. Make sure that the candles are securely put together and cannot be easily knocked over by your cat, dog, or child'.
You can further reduce the risk of a fire by keeping your tree fresh and hydrated. As Stefan says, 'a dry tree is more likely to catch fire. Also, keeping a fire extinguisher or water bucket nearby can help you take out any fires before they spread'.
Stefan is the founder and owner of Rhythm of the Home, a family-owned website surrounding home decor, interior design, gardening, landscaping, cleaning, organizing, and overall home improvement.
Can you put vintage bulbs on a Christmas tree?
Unless you're dead set on decorating with real candles, fire safety experts would advise against it. James Copeland is the Director of Technical Services at Prism Specialties, a restoration company that works to repair fire-damaged appliances, textiles, documents, and works of art. James has met with countless clients whose homes and belongings were destroyed by Christmas tree fires. He knows that real candles pose a real risk and he would never recommend putting them on your Christmas tree.
Instead of real candles, you could illuminate your tree with vintage holiday lights, which bring a similar flickering feel and retro charm. You could use an old pack of lights that has been passed down through your family or pick up a brand new set.
These vintage-effect, warm white bulbs are suitable for indoor or outdoor use. You could use them to light up your patio or porch for a festive display, or twine them through the branches of your tree.
These bulbs look more like ornaments. You could string them through wire to wrap around the tree or hang them in clusters as part of a festive centerpiece.
The fire risk posed by vintage holiday lights is lower than that of real candles, but never zero. According to James, 'the problem with old bulbs is that they use a tremendous amount of energy and can become very hot'. Vintage bulbs might not set your tree on fire, but they could easily singe the branches. James advises that you should 'never chain more than three string plugs together. If you must plug in more strings, use an extension cord or power strip to properly distribute the demand'.
Whether you're reusing old lights or buying a new set, it pays to read the fine print and check whether your lights are suitable for indoor or outdoor use. 'Outdoor Christmas lights are made to endure cold temperatures and wet conditions,' says James, while 'indoor lights are designed to prevent fire hazards. It's important to use specific kinds of lights for their intended purposes.'
James leads the team at Prism Specialties, a restoration company that works to repair fire-damaged appliances, textiles, documents and works of art. James knows a thing or two about fire safety, which is why he would never put real candles on a Christmas tree.
Can you put LED lights on a Christmas tree?
The best Christmas tree lighting designs are equal parts safety- and style-conscious. A decent set of LED lights can replicate the classic charm of vintage bulbs without the fire hazard. LEDs use very little electricity, but they're highly efficient. These bulbs won't waste energy as heat and will put all their power into shining bright.
You can set your LEDs to twinkle, flash, or glow slow, and customize the color of each bulb to fit your festive vision. Most light strings come with a remote control, so that you can operate your LEDs at any time, from anywhere in your home.
You customize your Christmas color palette with these adjustable LED lights. Each bulb is independently controlled, so that you can create bespoke combinations, or set all the lights to a single shade for ease.
These string lights might not look too impressive when they're all wound up, but they easily unravel into 66 feet of dark green wire to tone into your Christmas tree, illuminated by 200 individual LED bulbs.
Interior designer Marlena Kaminska uses LED lights to illuminate her own Christmas tree. While she appreciates how quick and easy they are to operate, Marlena knows that these fire-safe bulbs are a far cry from real candles. That's why she sets her LED lights to warm white on the flicker setting − it's the best way 'to emulate that twinkly candlelit feel'.
If you want to get as close as possible to the look of real candles, you should invest in a set of battery-operated wick candles. You can snag a set of 12 for less than $30 at Amazon. Marlena loves LED wick candles, 'which offer up all of the mood with none of the risk of fire. These are the much safer choice for use near your Christmas tree and throughout your festive decor'.
Marlena is a dynamic digital designer with a background in interior design. Taking a lead design role at home lighting brand ValueLights, Marlena merges her interior design expertise with her digital design prowess to bring innovation and style to the world of lighting.
Can you get a pre-lit Christmas tree?
If you're interested in interior design, the chances are that you can appreciate a festive scene, but you might not enjoy every part of the decorating process. Christmas lights can pose all sorts of problems, from broken bulbs to frayed string. Perhaps that's why you wanted to decorate with real candles in the first place – so that you didn't have to wrestle with the wire and wrap it round the tree.
If this sounds like you, you might appreciate a pre-lit Christmas tree. These artificial firs come pre-wired, with strings of lights threaded through the branches. All you need to do is plug your tree into an electrical outlet and it should light right up.
This tree comes ready to light and lined with 250 LED bulbs. Each branch is flocked with faux snow, so that you can walk through a winter wonderland in your own front room.
Seven feet tall and five feet wide, this pre-lit tree would make a serious statement in a bay window or spacious entryway. Each pine needle is individually crafted to create full-body branches.
How else can you decorate with candles at Christmas?
Although the experts advise against putting real candles on a tree, there are so many other ways to decorate with candles at Christmas. You could incorporate candles into a festive centerpiece to set in the middle of the table or upon the mantelpiece. If you like the look of tall, tapered candles, you could secure a few candlesticks in holders for a touch of class. You could always invest in one, big Christmassy candle and let it burn throughout the festive season.
This festive candelabra features PVC pine needles, bold red berries, and faux pine cones. It looks like the real thing, only it's fire-safe and never needs watering.
To get the look of candles in a tree without the fire hazard, you could set a candlestick in each of these tall and tapered holders.
How to light a Christmas tree FAQs
Can Christmas tree lights catch on fire?
It is possible for Christmas tree lights to catch on fire, especially if you overload your electrical outlets or intertwine several strings of lights. Safety-conscious shoppers might appreciate energy-efficient LED lights, instead of vintage bulbs, which glow brighter for longer without heating up.
Where can I buy Christmas tree lights?
You can buy Christmas tree lights at almost every major home retailer, in store and online, as we approach the festive season. If you're in the market for vintage bulbs with heaps of classic charm, you'll find a lot to like at Anthropologie. For long strings and a lot of lights, you might be better off at Target or Walmart. Amazon has a wide selection of pre-lit Christmas trees, as well as holiday hanging lights.
Putting real candles on a tree is one of the most dangerous Christmas lighting mistakes to avoid this festive season. Even if you take care to secure your candles with holders and position them along the outside branches, it isn't worth the risk.
Luckily, there are so many other ways to decorate with candles at Christmas. You could incorporate your tapers into festive centerpieces and candelabras. For quick and convenient Christmas decoration, it might be easier to stick to string lights or pick up a pre-lit tree. If you're keen to make your Christmas lights look more expensive, then you're in luck: we've spoken with expert decorators and found five easy hacks to elevate your lighting design.
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Before she joined Homes & Gardens, Emilia studied English at the University of Oxford, where she sharpened her critical writing skills. She also worked on the other side of the aisle writing press releases for regional newspapers and crafting copy for Sky. Emilia combines her business savvy with her creative flair as our eCommerce Editor, connecting you with the products you’ll love. When she’s not in the office, Emilia is happiest when entertaining friends al fresco or out in the country.
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