Top 8 Holiday Dangers (And How to Avoid Them)


The holidays are drawing near, and everyone is getting ready to celebrate. Maybe someone you know has already started (you know who you are) and you feel like you need to catch up, but hold on for a moment. Before you go riding off into the sunset to find the perfect Christmas tree or the best Hanukkah present ever, take a second to think about how safe your house is right now. Are you prepared for the festivities? If you’re not sure, take a look at these holiday safety tips and make sure your holidays don’t turn out like National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.

1. Fire

The idea of sitting in front of a warm fire on a cold, snowy night is great unless you don’t have a fireplace. If that’s the case, your house might be on fire. Everyone has heard those horror stories of people losing their homes on Christmas Eve. Don’t be one of those people. Keep these safety tips in mind and keep the fire in the fireplace.

  • Candles, overloaded outlets, fireplaces, kitchen appliances and space heaters can all cause fires.

  • Make sure your tree is on a sturdy stand so no pets, kids or rambunctious adults can knock it over and catch carpeting, tree limbs or drapes on fire.

  • All holiday lights should be unplugged and all candles extinguished at the end of the night.

  • Don’t use real candles on your tree. They will catch something on fire. They always do.

  • Check all of your smoke detectors before you begin decorating.

  • Have your fireplace examined before the first use.

  • Lighters should be kept away from children and stored in out-of-reach places.

  • Nothing should be draped in front of, or on top of, space heaters. They get HOT and can catch nearly anything on fire.

2. Car Accidents

It started snowing while you were at Grandma’s house and on your way home the roads get bad. What do you do? Many people, especially parents, are nervous about driving in the wintery and sometimes unpredictable Iowa conditions. Keep yourself and your kids safe by following these simple safety tips:

  • Buckle Up. It’s simple, but seatbelts do save lives. If you find yourself in the ditch off of I-35, you will be thankful you had your seatbelt on.

  • Avoid traveling in the evenings if possible. When the sun goes down, the temperature starts to drop, and the drunk drivers begin taking to the roads. It’s safer to travel in the daytime when temperatures are higher and it’s easier to see.

  • Don’t drink and drive. This one should be self-explanatory. Not only is it illegal, but you can cause yourself major injury or even death. Even worse, you could injure or kill someone else.

  • Use proper car seats for your child’s weight and height. Check the instructions if you’re unsure.

  • Keep your eyes open. Don’t drive when you’re too tired and always be vigilant in remaining aware of what is going on around you.

3. Poisoning

Poisonings do happen during the holidays, especially to pets and kids. A lot of decorative plants used in holiday decorations are poisonous, like holly, poinsettias and mistletoe. If you can stand missing out on that awkward kiss, ditch the real mistletoe for plastic and keep it securely hung and out of reach from pets and little kids. While snow is often in abundance around here, some people want that wintery feeling inside their homes by using spray-can snow. If used improperly, the aerosols from fake snow can be poisonous. Always read the directions. 

If you will be throwing a party at your house, you have to look out for even more holiday safety dilemmas. Kids can often get into alcohol left out from parties and may accidentally give themselves alcohol poisoning. Talk to your kids about not drinking out of other people’s glasses (mostly because of germs, obviously) and ask your guests to throw away any unused drinks. 

Food poisoning is a common problem during the holidays. Sometime people try to cook who probably shouldn’t. So, give these tips to your cook-in-training: 

  • Don’t re-use plates, bowls or cutting boards that have come into contact with raw meat or eggs.

  • Cook food thoroughly according to standards.

  • Store leftovers properly according to guidelines.

4. Choking Hazards

We’ve all seen the tiny print on the back of literally everything that says “choking hazard.” You might think to yourself, who would put this in their mouth? The answer is babies. As all parents know, babies, small children and animals will put everything in their mouths. Keep the little people and (maybe not so) little pets in your life from getting the Heimlich Maneuver with these safety tips: 

  • Kids can choke on small ornaments, ornament hooks, light bulbs, tinsel and anything else that will fit in their mouths.

  • Keep small toy parts, pet toys and older kid’s toys away from younger siblings. 

  • Even foods like peanuts and popcorn can be a choking hazards for little people who didn’t know they were supposed to chew before swallowing. 

  • Eating the needles from a Christmas tree can severely scratch and harm a child’s mouth and throat.

5. Fall Injuries

It’s that fun time of year where the kids get to watch Dad wobble on the ladder while he puts up the Christmas lights and decorations. Misuse of a ladder can land anyone in the emergency room. While you’re outside, remember to avoid using metal ladders near power lines and read and follow all instructions listed on the ladder (yes, there are instructions). Whether you’re inside or outside, keep both hands and one foot on the ladder at all times. Face the ladder when you climb it, stand in the middle of the step and only use it on a level surface.

6. Burns

Lots of yummy cooking happens during the holiday season. This also means that there might be a lot of cooks in the kitchen. Watch out for potential burns while working in the kitchen with a few safety tips:

  • Keep oven doors completely closed. Little fingers and hands might be tempted to touch the inside, or someone might trip over an open door.

  • Turn the handles of pots and pans away from you. This prevents someone from bumping into pot handles and spilling that side-dish you worked so hard on. Also, this helps prevent little hands from grabbing hot handles. 

  • Don’t let children cook unattended. They have no idea what they’re doing and will most likely injure or burn themselves.

7. Dust and Mold

Let’s be real, you have been storing your holiday decorations in boxes or containers for almost a year. Dust, dirt, mold, and who knows what else, have developed all over them and you are about to drag that stuff all over your house. Not to mention that your live Christmas tree is bringing everything from mold spores to bugs and pollen into your house from the outside. The American Christmas Tree Association recommends washing your live tree with water and letting it completely dry before bringing it inside to get rid of pollen, dust, mold and other allergens that can make you feel stuffy and miserable during the holidays. Gently dusting off decorations and investing in an air cleaner can also help reduce allergy problems.

8. Opening Presents

Most likely, you and your kids are super excited to open presents. Unfortunately, some of those presents are wrapped in what you can only imagine as thermonuclear detonation-proof plastic that could survive an apocalypse. And, to make it even better, your kid wants his or her new present. Now. To keep everyone’s hands and fingers intact, these safety rules are a must:

  • Always cut with blades facing away from your body.

  • Open your child’s presents for them.

Take these holiday safety tips into consideration to make your festivities run as smoothly as possible. No one wants a hectic and traumatic holiday season, but in case there is a severe emergency, UnityPoint Health - Des Moines' Emergency Department, Level 1 Trauma Center at Iowa Methodist Medical Center or Blank Children's Hospital's Level II Pediatric Trauma Center are here to help. Also, check into the Education Center for even more information on how to keep the holidays safe.

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