Have you pulled out, dusted off and put up your holiday decorations around your home yet? If you have (or you plan to do so soon) you may not be aware that your holiday stuff might be on the not-so-nice list when it comes to toxic chemicals.

Festive items, such as holiday trees, lights, and other decorations could contain toxic chemicals with links to cancer, hormone disruption, asthma and many other serious health concerns.

You don’t have to let toxic chemicals ruin your holiday spirit this year. We have some handy tips to help to reduce your family’s exposure and protect your health.

Green-up your decorations

If you have a holiday tree, beware of artificial ones—especially older ones—because they could contain lead and PVC (polyvinyl chloride). In California, most artificial trees are required to have a warning label because of this. If you choose a real tree, ask your local tree farm if they use pesticides.

You can’t have a holiday tree without lights. While lights can help brighten up a tree and put you in the holiday spirit, they might be hazardous to your health. Some brands of holiday lights contain lead and PVC (the same nasty stuff found in some artificial holiday trees). If you are planning on buying new lights this year, look for lights that are RoHS (which stands for Restriction of the use of certain Hazardous Substances) compliant. This directive (which originated in the EU) restricts the use of six toxic chemicals normally found in electronics or electrical equipment: lead; mercury; cadmium; hexavalent chromium; polybrominated biphenyls; and polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE). You can also find RoHS compliant lights that are LED, which helps you reduce your carbon footprint.

If you want your home to smell like the holidays, go the natural route by using essential oils, cinnamon sticks and evergreen branches (baking cookies helps too!). Scented candles, and other scented items, could contain phthalates—a group of chemicals linked to asthma, endocrine disruption, and several other health problems.

Watch out for the gift wrap

Wrapping paper printed with snowmen, snowflakes, and stars looks cheerful, but watch out! Coloured or foil paper could contain lead or other toxic chemicals which can release into the air if burned (safety note: never burn wrapping paper). To reduce waste, see if your municipality will recycle wrapping paper or, if possible, you can also reuse it again next year.

If you need to buy wrapping paper or bags, choose products made of recycled materials, or get creative and make your own. Better yet, cloth gift bags can be used over and over again for many holidays to come.

Sometimes the best holiday stuff isn’t stuff at all

While decorations can help you get into a festive mood, the best part of the holidays is spending time with loved ones. And you don’t have to spend money, or bring unwanted chemicals into your home to do so. Have some holiday fun outside by going for a walk, skating, skiing, building a snowman, and exploring the beautiful nature in your area. Also, you can give a gift to support the environment and the work of Environmental Defence. Your gift will also go twice as far if you make a donation by December 31st.

Wishing you all a happy (and toxic-free) holiday season!