Holiday Safety for Home and Family

The holidays can be a wonderful whirlwind of parties, visiting family, food, and good cheer.

Don’t ruin it with over-scheduling, an accident or another unanticipated mishap. Find your local police department’s emergency and non-emergency phone numbers and keep them handy: with some thought for safety, everything should go perfectly!

How Do You Stay Safe During the Holidays?

A festive home is one adorned with sparkling features, twinkling lights, and a glowing hearth. But the emphasis on adornment can lead to lax safety, particularly as fire hazards. Also, slips and falls in the home can lead to debilitating declines for the vulnerable family members, but these concerns can be avoided:

  • decorate with safety in mind, including disposing of old, outdated strings of lights that may be frayed from storage;
  • keep decorations clear of active fireplaces, stoves, and heat sources;
  • candles are lovely but should be burned only in locations where they are well away from decorations, children’s reach, and where they will not be forgotten;
  • avoid clutter on stairways and in halls to minimize any tripping hazard;
  • do not overload extension cords, use surge protectors instead;
  • if decorating outdoors, ensure that any electrical components are rated for outdoor use;
  • ensure that batteries in smoke and CO2 detectors are fresh and the units functional;
  • always offer non-alcoholic options for guests or limit the hours that alcohol is served at a gathering;
  • when entertaining, make a plan for guest parking that won’t hinder emergency vehicles access to your home or your neighbor’s homes;
  • keep outdoors stairs, walkways, and driveways clear of snow and ice and well-illuminated, and
  • if using a ladder to decorate, ensure that it is on a clear, flat surface with a second person at the bottom to secure it.

Home Security Tips

Holidays are high season for theft and burglary, as it’s predictable that people will travel and leave their homes for parties and events. Winter weather can also be a factor, with storms unexpectedly blowing through. There are several ways to minimize any opportunities for damage or theft, including:

  • asking local police and neighbors to look after your home if you’re traveling during the holidays, including clearing driveways and walks, collecting mail, moving trash receptacles, and caring for the lawn if necessary;
  • stipulate that package deliveries are not left in a location that’s visible from the street and vulnerable to thieves (consider having deliveries made to your office instead);
  • remove or lock up ladders and tools from outdoor spaces, as well as locking access to basements and garages to minimize entry points and ease of access for potential burglars;
  • limit social media posts about your whereabouts if you are away;
  • cut up empty boxes from entertainment systems, gaming systems, and other high-dollar purchases so that your weekly trash and recycling pickup isn’t an advertisement to burglars;
  • put interior lights on timers and leave a vehicle in the driveway to make the home appear occupied;
  • turn the water off to minimize the potential for pipes to freeze and burst, causing serious damage;
  • keep the heat at a moderate level (over 50 degrees) so if electrical power is lost pipes will take longer to freeze;
  • trust a nearby friend with a key to your home so that systems can be checked and heat restored after a power outage, and
  • ensure that any security system is running smoothly, that backup batteries are still fresh, and emergency phone numbers loaded for appropriate responses to an alarm.

Holiday Travel Safety Tips

The day before Thanksgiving wins the prize for the most congested highways and airports, but increased traffic is the norm for the holidays. With that it’s common sense to expect a higher rate of accidents, potentially more drunk driving, and holiday road rage. Try these tactics to avoid the worst of things:

  • leave earlier than planned, giving yourself plenty of time to reach your destination;
  • use a ride-hailing service, taxi, or public transit to avoid the stress of driving and parking;
  • prepare for unanticipated delays and detours by keeping a bag of snacks and drinks in the car (or in airplane carry on baggage), especially if there are children involved;
  • if you get stuck or must pull over for a rest, get off the highway and always keep windows open to prevent CO2 buildup in the vehicle;
  • alternate drivers on long trips to forestall sleepy driving, which is more common than drunk driving;
  • limit distractions in your vehicle by asking a passenger to handle the GPS and by using headphones on devices playing music or movies;
  • don’t forget your phone charger or extra battery, and
  • build flexibility into your travel plans, including checking train and bus schedules for alternatives.

Protect Your Peace of Mind

While the holidays are a time of enjoyment and generally good cheer, they can also be exhausting and exceptionally stressful, both emotionally and from a scheduling point of view. Working parents of young children find their already-busy schedules stretched even further to encompass school plays, office parties, extra cooking, relatives visiting, and the usual shopping and decorating. This level of activity can push some people to their limits. Consider instead:

  • limiting the number of holiday parties you try to attend, so that you can still get sufficient rest;
  • focus on the “four gifts” rule, which cuts back on a tremendous amount of extra shopping and wrapping by providing each person one thing they want, one thing they need, one thing to read, and one thing to use (a gift card);
  • set a budget and stick to it to reduce financial strain;
  • skip formal, stress-inducing events that add to your workload in favor of a simple ice-skating outing with friends or a walk in a quiet place away from holiday advertisements and noise;
  • reconsider a busy slate of public events and instead stay home to bake cookies together, decorate the house or tree as a family, or just hang out and watch the holiday movies, and
  • resist pressure from family members who expect large formal dining and impeccably dressed children – instead offer a holiday pizza party on paper plates and ornament decorating that everyone can enjoy – stress-free.

Food Safety

It’s tempting to use a “chilly” back porch to store food when your refrigerator is already full, but it’s best to be more rigid about keeping hot foods hot and cold foods cold. An entire party could be poisoned by food left out too long or by poorly managed cross-contamination issues. Implement these kitchen rules to protect yourself and your guests from foodborne illnesses:

  • wash hands before handling food, and wash every time you switch between raw foods (such as handling raw chicken then handling raw fish);
  • sanitize countertops and implements like cutting boards (run through the dishwasher on high heat setting);
  • replace older, contaminated sponges;
  • plan well so that raw food is not kept too long before cooking (freeze if it will be more than a couple days between shopping and cooking);
  • immediately refrigerate food after shopping, and don’t leave prepared food out for extended periods;
  • thaw frozen items in the refrigerator over a period of days for optimal safety;
  • keep cold food cold and hot food hot by stocking coolers with ice or borrowing crockpots when you have a big crowd;
  • don’t keep leftovers indefinitely, if they’re not consumed within four days, discard them, and
  • cook cuts of meat to 145 degrees (check with a meat thermometer) and ground meat to 160 degrees to ensure safety.

Personal Safety

Whether you’re traveling or staying close to home to celebrate the holidays, hazards exist around every corner when you let your guard down. Consider these tips:

  • set limits for alcohol consumption at parties and events, perhaps alternating alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages and drinking moderately around meals to lessen the impact of alcohol on an empty stomach;
  • arrange to have a travel buddy who will share transportation with you after a holiday party so you’re not wandering in an empty parking garage alone late at night;
  • it’s common for people to have more cash on hand during the holidays, so don’t carry all of your valuables, identification, and cash in one place, such as your wallet or pocketbook, in case you are accosted;
  • beware of carrying large quantities of holiday purchases, which can make you a target; opt for a ride-hailing service to pick you up or for valet service to bring your car around for more security, and
  • set your home security system every time you leave, even if it’s just a quick run to a neighbor’s house to pick up the kids.