Plan Ahead for Happy — and Safe — Holidays

Christmas treeFrosty weather across the Bay Area is a clue. So are the colorful lights and decorations that materialized practically overnight at every single retail establishment as far as the eye can see. Ready or not, the holiday season is upon us once more. Hanukkah starts on Sunday, and Christmas is only three weeks away.

If you’re preparing to deck your halls with boughs of holly — or maybe you’re ahead of the game and have already finished decorating — take a moment to make sure your holiday plans don’t put you or your loved ones at risk of accidental injuries, fires, or illness. Check out these holiday safety tips from the National Safety Council:


  • Never use lighted candles near trees, boughs, curtains/drapes, or with any potentially flammable item.
  • When spraying artificial snow on windows or other surfaces, be sure to follow directions carefully. These sprays can irritate your lungs if you inhale them.
  • Small children may think that holiday plants look good enough to eat, but many plants may be poisonous or can cause severe stomach problems. Plants to watch out for include mistletoe, holly berries, Jerusalem cherry and amaryllis. Keep all of these plants out of children’s reach.
  • When displaying a tree, cut off about two inches off the trunk and put the tree in a sturdy, water-holding stand. Keep the stand filled with water so the tree does not dry out quickly.
  • Stand your tree away from fireplaces, radiators and other heat sources. Make sure the tree does not block foot traffic or doorways.
  • Avoid placing breakable tree ornaments or ones with small, detachable parts on lower branches where small children or pets can reach them.
  • If you use an artificial tree, choose one that is tested and labeled as fire resistant. Artificial trees with built-in electrical systems should have the Underwriters Laboratory (UL) label.
  • Only use indoor lights indoors (and outdoor lights only outdoors). Look for the UL label. Check lights for broken or cracked sockets, frayed or bare wires, and loose connections. Replace or repair any damaged light sets.
  • Use no more than three light sets on any one extension cord. Extension cords should be placed against the wall to avoid tripping hazards, but do not run cords under rugs, around furniture legs or across doorways.
  • Turn off all lights on trees and decorations when you go to bed or leave the house. Unplug extension cords when not in use.


  • If you have to use a step ladder near a doorway, lock or barricade the door and post signs so no one will open it and topple you.
  • A straight or extension ladder should be placed one foot away from the surface it rests against for every four feet of ladder height.
  • When you climb, always face the ladder and grip the rungs to climb – not the side rails. Always keep three points of contact on the ladder, whether two hands and one foot, or two feet and one hand.
  • When using ladders outdoors, get down immediately if high winds, rain, snow or other inclement weather begins. Winds can blow you off the ladder, and rain or snow can make both the rungs and the ground slippery.


  • When preparing a holiday meal for friends and family, be sure to wash hands, utensils, the sink, and anything else that has come in contact with raw poultry. Keep in mind that a stuffed bird takes longer to cook.
  • Never defrost food at room temperature. Thaw it in the refrigerator, in cold water or in the microwave.
  • While doing holiday cooking, keep your knives sharp. Most knife injuries occur due to dull blades.
  • Avoid cleaning kitchen surfaces with wet dishcloths or sponges. They easily harbor and promote bacteria growth. Use clean paper towels instead.
  • Being a smart party host or guest should include being sensible about alcoholic drinks. More than half of all traffic fatalities are alcohol-related. Use designated drivers to get guests home after a holiday party — or encourage them to take a taxi.
  • The holiday season is one of the most stressful times of the year. You can’t avoid stress completely, but you can give yourself some relief. Allow enough time to shop for gifts and meal items rather than hurry through stores and parking lots. Only plan to do a reasonable number of errands.


The holiday season can be a hectic time. Take care of yourself both mentally and physically. The American Academy of Pediatrics reminds you that children and adolescents are affected by the emotional well-being of their parent or caregivers. Coping with stress successfully can help children learn how to handle  stress better, too.

The South San Francisco Police Department has produced a one-page document — easy to print — with holiday safety tips for the home, while driving, shopping, for children, and in the event strangers come to your door.

The San Francisco Fire Department offers concise tips for winter and holiday fire safety.

However you choose to mark these last weeks of 2015, please be safe — and healthy and happy. And join with your loved ones to welcome the new year!

(Photo: Flickr/Brendan C)