[PHOTO AT LEFT - Drum majorettes with Santa Claus hats wave after a parade passes down a Manila street yesterday as part of a Christmas festival organized by the Manila city government. - Photo By AFP]

MANILA, December 18, 2005 (STAR) CONSUMERLINE By Ching M. Alano - What’s Christmas with-out Christmas lights? Uh, dark? Call it crass commercialism, but as far back as we can remember, we’ve always decorated our homes with Christmas lights even long before the season comes around. They light up not only our homes, be they ever so humble, but our lives as well, even when chestnuts are not roasting on an open fire and our families have nothing but each other.

In other parts of the Christian world, people not only deck the halls with boughs of holly but also deck their Christmas trees with tons of Christmas lights. A bit of electrifying trivia: Did you know that it was the associate of Thomas Edison (the inventor of the light bulb, remember?), Edward Johnson, who was the first to electrically light a Christmas tree in the parlor of his New York City home? Since he turned on his Christmas lights sometime in the 1800s, New York City has been sleepless. Some two decades after Johnson lit up his Christmas tree, a man named Ralph Morris came up with his ingenious version of the Christmas lights: He yanked the lights from an old telephone switchboard and wired them round his Christmas tree. What a bright idea, don’t you think? They say necessity is the father of invention. We can’t agree more. The reason Morris came up with his invention was that his son nearly set their tree – and house – on fire when he placed a candle over the Christmas tree. On the other hand, in recent history, we’ve heard and read horrifying stories of fire caused by Christmas lights.

We can never be too careful when it comes to the safety of our home and family. So, hark and heed these enlightening tips when buying/using Christmas lights from the Department of Trade and Industry:

• Be meticulous. Make sure you have a safe product.

• Buy only those with the PS mark for local products or ICC mark for imported products.

PS and ICC marks are printed on stickers, not pre-printed on the packaging. ICC marks must bear the unique serial number for the shipment and the manufacturer or importer’s name for traceability.

• Inspect your Christmas lights before buying. The minimum wire thickness is 0.2mm.

• Check Christmas lights at home for exposed live wires, melting or opening in the lamp holders, loosely screwed light bulbs.

• Use the product properly.

• Follow the instructions as stated in the packaging.

Christmas lights for indoor use must not be used outdoors.

• Do not cascade (attach) more than the recommended sets of Christmas lights (normally, only three sets are allowed) to avoid overloading.

• Check your house for faulty electrical wiring.

• Do not overload the outlets.

• Always unplug Christmas lights or any electrical products when not in use.

FYI, tinsels (the metallic decorative material wrapped around Christmas trees) are conductors and may spark and cause fire if they come into contact with openings in the Christmas lights.

Christmas lights are among the products found in the list of the Philippine National Standard (PNS) for mandatory certification. Last year, the DTI-Bureau of Product Standards (BPS) confiscated more than 2,000 sets of Christmas lights from department stores, malls, and flea markets in different areas in the National Capital Region. The bureau has filed administrative cases against 10 retailers found selling uncertified Christmas lights.

Retailers, distributors, and importers found selling uncertified products under the BPS mandatory certification scheme face a P25,000-P300,000 fine under DAO 2:2002.

Through its product certification scheme, the DTI-BPS issued the Philippine Standard (PS) license and the Import Commodity Clearance (ICC) certificate to manufacturers and importers, respectively, for passing the test requirements based on the PNS prior to distribution and sale.

Companies with PS licenses and authorized to use the PS mark (as of November 14) are as follows: Frankwell Trading & Mfg. Phils., Inc., Illuminada, Fuh Maw Gen. Ent. Inc., Super Bright, Wexford International Sales, Diamond Bright.

From November 2004 to November 14, 2005, the BPS issued the Import Commodity Clearance (ICC) to 11 importers. The importers that are authorized to use the ICC marks are: Gold Myers Enterprises, Great Home Makes Enterprises, The Joy of Lights/ Lights & Shine, Hawaii Lights/Christmas Star/ Yuletide Fantasy, Greyhound Marketing Corporation, Everstar, IKHEA Pinecrest Enterprises, Goldcrest/ Pinecrest, PSMT Philippines Inc., 200 Clear Mini Lights, Romegalite Manufacturing, R & W/ Andrews, Sheratone Industries, Inc., Fuji-Bright Shining East Marketing Corp., Merry Lights/ Xmas Lites/ Super Bright/ The Magic Lights/ Season of Lights/ Millennium Lights/ Yuletide Fantasy, S.S. Commercial, Sunny Wexford International Sales, Diamond-Bright/ Kinglite/Super Diamond/ Global Lights/ Niagara/Andrews.

The tests performed on Christmas lights to ensure their safe use include:

• Ball pressure test – tests the resistance to heat of the enclosure of plug, flasher unit, and lamp holder.

• Endurance test – tests the length of time that the lamp lights for 96 hours or four days at steady temperature.

• Torque test – tests the current load with a torque tester for possible short circuit.

• Wiring test – tests the pull of the wires with 30 N for 10 cycles.

• Test for electric shock – tests the lamp holder to prevent tinsel and other decorative material from touching live metal when the set is in use.

For consumer complaints and queries, call the DTI consumer hotline at 751-3330. Visit the DTI online at Text DTI <space> <message> and send it to 2920. Or visit the DTI at 361 Sen. Gil Puyat Ave., Makati City.

* * *

Go for an eco-friendly Christmas

No doubt it’s the most festive season of all. And it’s also the time of the year that yields the most volume of garbage. Your friendly barangay waste collector can validate this – the festive celebration of Christmas and New Year never fails to leave behind a horrendous trail of discards, mostly packaging materials and disposables, some of which are irresponsibly disposed through open burning or dumping.

With the once austere and faith-centered observance of Christmas now overtaken by materialism and reckless disposal of valuable discards, the Ecological Waste Coalition through its chairperson Eileen Belamide-Sison, enjoins everyone, "It’s time to relive an eco-friendly Christmas. By issuing this public advisory, we present consumers with ecologically, financially, and socially-responsive options for celebrating Christmas while reducing our waste size and holiday spending. It’s not an exhaustive list, but a thoughtful consideration of any of these options will surely do good to our frail environment."

According to our ecologist friends, an eco-friendly Christmas is the "conscientious use of the earth’s finite resources by reducing wasting, preventing pollution, and conserving money and energy on one hand, and the increased sharing of compassion, love, and solidarity with all creations on the other."

Christmas Decor

• Reuse Christmas decorations. Make decorating a family affair. For example, encourage each member to help create a lantern or belen from objects found inside the house or the yard. Try creating biodegradable decorative items from dried leaves, grass, flowers, corncobs, branches, bark, banana stalks, palm fronds, etc.

• Use potted trees or plants as Christmas trees. Other options include branches or broomsticks in a jar or pot.

• If you must buy decorations, choose items that are local, natural, energy-efficient, durable, produce little or no waste, and use non-toxic materials.

• If possible, avoid stringing too many Christmas lights to save on energy. Following the example of the City of Makati, savings may be donated to the charity of your choice. If you really want to light up, use bulbs with low wattage to save on energy and to avoid overheating, especially if they are going to be left on for longer periods.

• Plan for modest festivities and donate savings to needy families. Bring Christmas cheer to poor families. Here’s how: Gather old clothes and toys and donate them to street children; invite poor families to your party; appropriate at least one percent of your budget for charity.

• Make preparations a team-building activity. Assign tasks for each group (e.g. cooking, physical arrangements, program, etc.).

• If food is catered, request for reusable utensils. If food is bought from restaurants, bring containers to avoid plastic, styrofor, etc. Single-use packaging only ends up in waterways and dumpsites.

• Make sure that waste segregation is properly observed.

• Compost food wastes. Reuse non-biodegradables or return them to the factory for recycling.

• Choose reusable cloth napkins instead of single-use paper napkins. You can make cheap cloth napkins from cheesecloth or flour bags. Simply wash and store for future use.

• Think of rituals and programs that will leave a message of peace and unity for the country and for the environment.

Christmas Gifts

• Collect unused gifts, old clothes, toys, books, and assorted other items (of no use to you but may be of use to others; one man’s junk can be another man’s treasure) and donate them to a charitable institution.

• Volunteer your time and talents to projects and services for the community and the environment. Ask your barangay, church, school or organization how you can be of help.

• Personalize gifts by making them yourself. Do-it-yourself gifts from the heart include: homemade dishes, plants from your own backyard, scrapbooks, CD music selection, etc. For practical reasons, ask the person you want to give a gift to for preferences to make sure that what she/he receives is something she/he would appreciate.

• Give products, delicacies from your province (such as fruits, vegetables, plants, sweets, condiments, decorative and functional crafts, etc.).

• Give environment-friendly gifts made of recycled materials or products or services that advocate sustainable living.

• When buying gifts, choose products that do not come from old-growth forests, are not fossil fuel-based, non-toxic, and not made from child or abusive labor practices.

• Give items that will teach recycling such as handouts, primers and manuals on the different kinds of recycling.

• Choose gifts that do not need to be wrapped: potted plants, massage from blind masseurs, gift checks, concert tickets, raffle tickets, etc.

• If you need to wrap the gift, use old magazines or newspapers (especially the comics section), old bandanas, etc. You can also use craft paper (use colored pencils to jazz it up).

• Send e-card to family and friends with Internet access. Create your own greeting card to give it a more personal touch or buy cards from groups with a special mission or advocacy.

• Make a phone call to friends.

• For Catholics, offer a Thanksgiving Mass instead of material gifts.

Christmas Shopping

• Plan your shopping trips and examine your list to save on gifts and fuel costs.

• Bring a bag, basket, bayong when shopping to avoid plastic bags.

• Avoid excessively and expensively packaged items. Remember that the cost of the packaging is added on to the price of the item.

Have yourself a merry and eco-friendly Christmas!

* * *

We’d love to hear from you. E-mail us at

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved