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Christmas Checklist: Holiday Safety Know-How

It's the most joyful time of the year, but don't let your guard down. Here's how to avoid fire hazards, travel dangers, and other holiday mishaps.


The Lights

  • Get the right approval: When shopping for new lights, make sure they're approved by the Underwriters Laboratory -- look for their label.
  • Reconsider your candles: Consider battery-powered candles -- they're less risky than traditional ones. Real candles should be placed at least four feet away from curtains, decorations, and bedding.
  • Check your string lights: Before stringing them up, thoroughly inspect your holiday lights for cracked or frayed wires and broken bulbs. Light them and shake them.
  • Secure loose wires: Tape the cords to the floor with duct tape, or run them through PVC pipes to prevent small children and pets from getting to them.
  • Cut unnecessary power: Unplug the lights on your way out and before you go to sleep, and cover open outlets with a guard.
Click here to make the String-Light "Wall" Tree above

The Tree

  • Get a safe artificial tree: It should come with a fire retardant tag.
  • Choose a well-hydrated real tree: Choose a tree that's as fresh as possible. Give it a "tug" test: Gently grasp the bough between your forefinger and thumb, and pull it toward you. Very few needles should shake off.
  • Keep your real tree watered: Trees are often precut early in the season. Take an inch or half-inch off the bottom, and put it in water. Keep the water level above the cut line and monitor it daily.
  • Display your real tree in a safe place: Situate the tree at least three feet away from any heat sources like fireplaces and heating vents, as well as exits.
  • Keep the water dish out of reach: Cats and dogs will be tempted to drink from the water dish, which has preserving chemicals that can make them sick. Fasten the tree apron securely around the bottom of the tree to cover the dish.
  • Keep ornaments out of reach: Avoid decorating the lower boughs of your tree with breakable ornaments or ones with small, detachable parts. This is where small children and pets can reach them.


  • Tree ornaments: Avoid decorating the lower boughs of your tree with breakable ornaments or ones with small, detachable parts. This is where small children and pets can reach them.
  • Tinsel: These shiny strands are attractive to pets and small children, but bear in mind that they can be hazardous if consumed.
  • Candy: Colorfully wrapped candies can prove to be a double-fold hazard to pets: The foil wrapping is a choking hazard to small children, and chocolate causes gastrointestinal issues in dogs. Keep these sweets out of reach in dishes.


  • Take it slow and steady: Allow three times distance between you and the car in front of you. When it's snowing, use low gears to keep traction, especially on hills.
  • Know your brakes: More specifically, know the type. With anti-lock brakes, apply firm pressure with your foot. For non-anti-lock brakes, pump the brakes gently.
  • Know the risky roads: Be cautious on bridges, overpasses, and infrequently traveled roads, since they tend to freeze over first.
  • Check your tires: All-season tires are really suitable only for driving in places with occasional storms, whereas specified snow tires have deep treads on your car to beat the sleet and snow. Check that they are properly inflated to the recommended PSI (pound per square inch of air) with a tire pressure gauge. For every 10-degree drop in temperature, tires lose close to one pound per square inch of pressure.
  • Give your tires "the penny test": This will ensure that your tires have enough tread on them. To do this, hold a penny between your thumb and forefinger by the body of Abraham Lincoln so that his head is exposed. Insert the head into the lowest groove on the tread. If you can see above his head, then it is time for new tires. 


  • Avoid cross-contamination: Thoroughly wash utensils and dishware that touches raw meat -- this includes your hands as you switch from task to task.
  • Don't defrost food at room temperature: Thawing should take place in the refrigerator, in cold water, or in the microwave.
  • Clean up the fast, effective way: Gather your dishes and stack them on one side of the sink. Wash glasses, silver, chinaware, servingware, and cookingware in that order so that the shinier objects are cleaned in the hottest and cleanest sink water. The hotter the water, the faster they dry.
  • Don't let leftovers spoil: Refrigerated in a covered container, most leftovers will last three to four days. When reheating, the internal temperature should be at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit.