Christmas tree fire – How often does that happen?
Christmas trees account for about 200 fires annually, resulting in six deaths, 25 injuries and more than $6 million in property damage, according to the U.S. Fire Administration.
Prevention? Make a fresh cut to remove at least half an inch of wood from the base of the trunk, and place the tree in water. Keep it away from heat sources, do not leave lights on unattended, and discard the tree promptly after the holiday when it has become dry and easier to ignite.
Drunken driving – How often does that happen?
According to statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 38 percent of all traffic fatalities during the 2007 Christmas period and 41 percent during the 2007-08 New Year’s Day period involved a drunken driver (compared with 32 percent during the rest of the year). This year could be especially risky because Christmas and New Year’s Day fall on Fridays, and the incidence of drunken-driving fatalities typically rises on weekends.
Prevention? If you’re going to drink, don’t drive. Plan ahead to have a designated driver, call a cab or ride the Metro. If you do over-imbibe, sleep it off on your host’s sofa. And even if someone sober is driving, wear a seat belt.
Weight gain – How often does that happen?
The claim that most Americans gain five pounds from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day is a myth; most gain only one pound, according to an oft-cited 2000 study in the New England Journal of Medicine. But don’t reach for the figgy pudding yet: The study also found that most people never lose that pound during the spring and summer.
Tips from Michelle May, physician and author of “Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat”: Listen and adhere to your body’s satiety cues. Sit down to eat. Deal with food pushers with a polite but firm “No, thank you.” Be a food snob; if something doesn’t taste as good as you expected, stop eating it and choose something else.
Holiday plant poisoning – How often does that happen?
In 2008, American poison control centers received 426 calls regarding exposure to American and English holly, 132 calls about mistletoe and 1,174 for poinsettias. (“Exposure” usually means eating the plant, but the centers receive all kinds of zany calls, including people who rub the leaves on their skin and develop a rash.) None of these cases resulted in death, but effects of ingestion can include vomiting, nausea and diarrhea. The National Capital Poison Center lists holly and mistletoe as poisonous but poinsettia as nonpoisonous, though it “may cause irritation.”
Keep these plants out of reach of children and pets. Call the National Poison Control Center, 800-222-1222, if you suspect ingestion.
Package-opening injury – How often does that happen?
Hard plastic “clamshell” casings, plastic bindings and wire ties send many revelers reaching for box cutters or knives on Christmas morning. About 6,000 Americans end up in the emergency room each year because of packaging-related injuries (so that includes birthday presents as well as Christmas gifts), according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
Last year, Amazon.com started its “frustration-free packaging” program, which promises “no wire ties, no clamshells, no wrap rage.” But if you find yourself confronted with an apparently impenetrable wrapper, take a deep breath (despite the excitement or anger). Then remember these tips from the Pennsylvania Medical Society: Avoid opening difficult packages in a crowded area, do not use your legs to keep the product stable and use blunt-tipped scissors.
Sledding accident – How often does that happen?
According to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 22,780 people were injured while riding sleds, toboggans, snow disks or snow tubes from 2004 to 2005.
The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons recommends that children younger than 12 wear helmets. Scout the sledding hill to make sure that it’s free of obstacles, and don’t pick a slope that ends in a street, parking lot, pond or other hazard. Never go down a hill headfirst; sit upright, face forward and use a sled that you can steer.
Eggnog salmonella – How often does that happen?
There are no specific eggnog-related data, but the CDC estimates that one in 50 consumers could be exposed to a contaminated egg each year. If that egg is thoroughly cooked, the salmonella bacteria organisms will be destroyed and will not make the person sick.
No, a dash of rum does not kill the bacteria in eggnog. If that’s what you’re serving, make it safely from a cooked egg-milk mixture, heating gently until it reaches 160 degrees, says the U.S. Department of Agriculture. (Or just buy pasteurized eggnog from the grocery store.) While we’re on the subject: If you’re baking cookies, don’t lick the spoon if there are eggs in your batter. If you don’t trust yourself, modify the recipe by using an egg substitute.