Avoiding the mishaps and misunderstandings of Christmas 


Christmas can be a fabulous time of year. However, according to the NHS and The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA), there are more accidents and mishaps involving humans and our four-legged friends than usual around the festivities.

There is a plethora of seasonal hazards lurking: glass decorations, trailing cables from lights, tinsel-covered stair bannisters, open fires, new toys, visitors, over-excited people, and additional pets. Plus, the is array of potential perils in the kitchen and mischievious folk of all ages; Bah humbug sorry if I sound like a Grinch, but once you factor in alcohol, it’s easy to appreciate how folks can fall foul of the festive season.

According to RoSPA, over 80,000 people need hospital treatment for injuries and burns during the festive period and with emergency services under increasing strain and GPs and chemists shutting down, we need to be mindful and self-sufficient over the Christmas period to avoid missing out on the jollities or ending up in the emergency department (ED) or making an urgent and costly visit to the vet.

Here’s an essential guide to staying safe and avoiding becoming a Christmas statistic. 

1.Allergies. Gatherings and celebrations are particularly critical times for people who need to take extra special care with food, such as those with Coeliac diseases or have food allergies, especially to nuts. Cross-contamination and nut residues are easy to miss for the unaware. While the 14 major allergens are highlighted in bold on the ingredient list of pre-packed food, extra caution may be needed with catered food and the offerings that guests may bring – which can be a sensitive subject. Reality check – managing pets snaffling unsuitable food requires eagle eyes.

2. Alcohol. The dreaded ‘turkey incidents’ (kitchen mishaps) are more likely to happen to those who have overdone the alcohol or started too early; sorry to be a party popper, but it’s true. Plus, if you have children in your home or staying over, it is wise to ensure any residual alcohol is emptied from glasses and bottles before heading to bed. Little ones are often the first down in the morning, and swigging the remains of grown-ups’ drinks is a common reason kids end up in the ED. If the worst happens and someone collapses after drinking alcohol, check they are breathing and then roll them onto their side into the recovery position to keep their airway clear. Safety check – Due to the risk of vomiting and choking, please do not leave them on their own. Call 999 for all under 18s and 111 for any other concerns.

3. Choking. We are all at risk, but checking for sparkly and novelty items, rogue and loose decorations, magnets, batteries, and other potential choking hazards is a sensible precaution if you are expecting little ones in your home; small parts from toys, gadgets, crackers or even pieces of burst balloons can quickly become a choking hazard for children (and adults too). Also, while the berries of Holly and Mistletoe are super festive and romantic, they are highly poisonous, can cause hallucinations, and slow the heart rate. Reality check: The other group of folks at risk of choking are tipsy folks and those with neurological conditions, which Upi may be unaware of.

4. Decoration. RoSPA revealed that a staggering 2.6 million people fall annually from chairs or stools while putting up decorations, with an additional 1000 sustaining injuries while decorating their Christmas tree. Plus 1 in 50 people have fallen from the loft while getting decorations down? Who knew Christmas trees present such a risk? Interestingly, there are no statistics for injuries returning things into the attic. Reality check – use a ladder and try to place glass decorations out of the reach of toddlers and pets.

5. Fairy Lights: I love twinkly lights, but an additional 350 people a year are injured falling while putting up fairy lights, and one in 40 suffer burns or an electrical shock due to faulty or damaged fairy lights. Tragically, 26 people have died while watering their Christmas tree with the lights on. Tip: I know it is a chore, but testing lights and the wiring before putting them up is a good idea, along with not overloading sockets and avoiding cables becoming a trip hazard. Tip: Timer switches and smart plugs are easy and cost-effective ways to manage seasonal lights when the socket is out of reach or tucked behind furniture. 

6. Festive flames and fires. while increasing rare house fires can happen at any time but are most common in December between supper time 6-8 pm, chimney fires also increase between December and February. Sadly, 50% of deaths in domestic properties result from missing or faulty smoke alarms. Have you checked your alarm this month? Checking your smoke alarms and Carbon Monoxide detector if your home uses gas should be part of your monthly routine. Tip: if you are planning on having a festive open fire, get your chimney swept.

7. Other seasonal precautions – keep Christmas cards, paper decorations, and the Christmas tree away from flames, such as candles, tea lights, or open fires and checking that all flames are extinguished before heading to bed is sensible. 

8. Slips and trips at home. If, like me, on occasion, your stairs are loaded like a holding bay with stuff waiting to move, they are a danger hotspot all year round. So, if you have guests who may be unfamiliar with the layout of your home, especially when it’s dark, ensuring the stairs are free of clutter and obstacles is a smart move. Slips and trips are more likely when folks are tired, excited or tipsy and during nighttime loo visits. Tip: Can you leave a light on or plug in a motion sensor night light? 

9. Medication – medicines are the most common cause of accidental poisoning in children, with everyday painkillers such as paracetamol a frequent culprit. The contents of visitors’ bags could prove lethal. Remind them to keep all medication out of sight and reach of curious little hands or inquisitive puppies, so probably best not left out on a bedside table or in an open handbag.

10. RoSPA keeps statistics for all accidents. Did you know more than half a million people have burnt themselves whilst roasting chestnuts on an open fire – yep, really! 

11.The most common Christmas mishaps include

  • Batteries not being included in a gift and not having any in the house
  • Pets pulling down decorations or the Christmas tree falling over
  • Leaving a gift at home
  • Hiding presents and finding them years later
  • Family arguments over board games
  • Not having enough space to sit at the Christmas table
  • Power cuts
  • Indigestion from overeating and feeling stuffed
  • Running out of fridge/freezer space

12. Misunderstandings

One of the most likely areas of misunderstanding and conflict during Christmas is managing expectations, family traditions/rituals and obligations.

  • Does your family have a no-adult gift rule? Or are gifts exchanged and opened first thing, before lunch or after? Or does your family exchange gifts on Xmas Eve?
  • Is this the time when you pop to Church for the bells and smells, or is this a sacred religious time for you?
  • What time do you expect visitors to arrive and, importantly, leave?
  • What time is lunch? Or do you do dinner instead? 
  • Is a walk obligatory or just another organisational hassle?
  • Or do you go with the flow or muddle through?

You get the picture; talking about these things ahead of time is a huge stress buster, and significantly, as families change, expand and blend our inherited beliefs, expectations, and obligations can and do need reviewing or ven changing. Don’t make assumptions; ask loved ones and visitors what’s important to them this festive season, and give honest responses if you are asked. Tip: Please don’t seek perfection; it’s truly the thief of joy.

And finally, remember it’s okay to say no thanks, take a break for yourself, or plan time to do the things you truly love, all of which will help you unwind and build your resilience to the inevitable stresses of life. Better still, escape for some fresh air and talk a solo walk; it is a great way to reset.

I wish you a peaceful and very merry Christmas, and perhaps I’ll meet you on a mat in 2024


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