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8 Surprising Ways People Get Hurt During the Holidays

Holiday hazards include falling from ladders, tripping on toys and even getting hit by flying champagne corks

spinner image close up of a broken ornament on a wood floor by string lights
Rawf8 / Getty Images

The holiday season is supposed to be full of joy, celebration and time spent with loved ones. But with all the hustle and bustle of the season, things are bound to occasionally go awry.

You accidentally staple your finger with the staple gun when hanging Christmas decorations. A heavy box of ornaments falls off a shelf and lands on your head. Or — heaven forbid — you fall from a ladder while hanging holiday lights along your roofline.

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All of those are real, holiday-related injuries from 2021 documented by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), which collects annual data on emergency room visits.

Many holiday-related injuries happen when someone is putting up or taking down holiday decorations, the database shows. In addition to falling off ladders (a lot!), people tend to cut themselves when they handle or step on broken ornaments (another big one) and get poked in the eye by errant pine needles.

One poor fellow in 2021 accidentally ingested a piece of a broken ornament that had fallen into his soup.

Strains and sprains from carrying heavy objects are common, as are complaints of chest pain and other possible symptoms of a heart attack.

“Certainly, we see accidents and illnesses at all times of year, but there are some holiday-specific types of injuries that happen every year in December,” says Thomas Waters, an emergency medicine physician at the Cleveland Clinic.

About a third (30 percent) of Americans who celebrate winter holidays say they have been injured while participating in holiday-related activities, according to a 2022 ValuePenguin survey.

Another problem during the holidays is that people tend to put off getting medical attention, because they don’t want to disrupt the festivities or miss out on visiting with family, says Michael D. Levine, associate professor of emergency medicine at UCLA. Unfortunately, delays often lead to worse outcomes, Levine says.

Here are eight common holiday-related injuries and accidents, along with real-life examples from the CPSC database and smart advice on how to stay safe.

spinner image close up of a woman tripping over an extension cord
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1. Tripping on toys, cords, wrapping paper or other hazards

Example: A 79-year-old tripped over the cord to a string of Christmas lights and fell.

Adults age 65 and older are already at higher risk of falls, with about 1 out of every 4 falling each year. And during the holiday season, there are more obstacles than ever to navigate.

People stumble over wrapping paper, decorations, light cords and toys scattered across the floor, says Janice Williams, director of the Injury Prevention Center at Atrium Health Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Family pets are another hazard. “They tend to dart around in excitement and have been a cause of many older relatives’ falls during the season,” Williams says.

Safety tips: Wear shoes with traction, limit your alcohol intake and watch your step as you walk. Be especially careful when you’re carrying something that makes it hard to see where you’re going, such as a box of Christmas decorations.

spinner image a man on a ladder hangs holiday lights on a roof
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2. Falling from a ladder, step stool or roof while decorating

Example: A 60-year-old man fell off his roof while trying to hang Christmas lights.

On average, there are about 160 decorating-related injuries each day during the holiday season, with almost half of the incidents involving falls, according to the CPSC.

“People climb up ladders to put up lights or to put up decorations, and they climb higher than they should,” Levine says. “If you’re not steady on your feet at baseline, you don’t belong on a ladder at all.”

Falls from great heights can cause injuries such as broken bones, internal bleeding (especially if you’re on a blood thinner) or a spine injury.

Safety tips: If you use a ladder, make sure it’s on level and firm ground, have a helper hold the ladder, don’t lean too far to one side and avoid stepping on the top three rungs. If you want lights on the roof, consider delegating that task to a younger family member or a professional.

3. Heart attack

Example: A 75-year-old man developed chest pain while getting Christmas decorations from his attic.

A study published in the journal Circulation revealed that more cardiac deaths occur on Christmas (December 25) than on any other day of the year. The next most deadly days are December 26 and then January 1.

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Researchers aren’t sure why deadly heart attacks increase during the last week of the year, but they suspect it is because the holidays are a stressful time, when many people eat heavy meals, get out of their routines or inadvertently skip their medications.

People may also exert themselves more than usual, whether they’re putting up decorations, preparing to host a gathering or shoveling snow.

“During the holidays, people tend to overdo it. They’re eating and drinking more than normal. They may have more activity than normal,” Waters says. “All of that can put more stress on your heart and circulatory system.”

Safety tips: Celebrate in moderation, watch your salt intake and make time to care for yourself during this busy time of year. Also, know the symptoms of a heart attack, and don’t hesitate to call 9-1-1 if you or a family member experiences any of them.

spinner image man slices a holiday ham on a set dinner table
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4. Getting cut while opening a gift, trimming a tree or slicing a roast/turkey/ham

Example: A 34-year-old accidentally cut their thumb with a knife while opening Christmas present wrapping.

With so many online gifts arriving in cardboard boxes, a box cutter, utility knife or pair of scissors can come in handy. Such tools can also help you trim your tree, slice the Christmas rib roast or pry open the plastic clamshells that still encase some items. But just one slip can cause serious injury to your hand.

In the ValuePenguin survey, cuts from opening or wrapping gifts were the most commonly reported injury, accounting for 13 percent of holiday-related injuries.

Older adults should be especially careful because their motor skills may not be as strong as they once were, Williams says. Their skin is also thinner and more delicate.

Safety tips: Use a sharp blade because it will be easier to control. Take your time, keep your other hand away from the area where you are cutting, and cut with the blade facing away from your body.

spinner image close up of champagne and cork exploding from bottle
Andy Roberts / Getty Images

5. Getting hit by a champagne cork

Example: A 42-year-old opening a champagne bottle was struck in the eye when the cork popped off.

A flying champagne cork travels at up to 50 mph as it leaves the bottle — fast enough to shatter glass, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology.

If it hits someone in the eye, it can cause bleeding, corneal abrasion and serious eye injury, Waters says. “People push [the cork] off with their thumb and then it goes flying across the room,” he explains. “That’s dangerous. It becomes a projectile.”

Safety tips: To open a bottle of champagne safely, point the bottle away from others. Then place a napkin or towel over the top, and firmly hold the cork while gently twisting the base of the bottle.

6. Christmas tree, candle or cooking fires

spinner image advent wreath on fire
rotofrank / Getty Images

Example: When a candle set a fake Christmas tree on fire, a man tried to put it out with his feet, burning his feet and lower legs.

Although Christmas tree fires are rare, when they happen, they tend to be serious, according to the National Fire Protection Association. Almost a third of home Christmas tree fires are caused by electrical problems. Another 20 percent happen because a heat source was placed too close to the tree.

The number of fires caused by candles is also high at this time of year, with 22 percent of all candle fires happening in December or January. And cooking fires happen more often on holidays, because cooks tend to get distracted when their kitchen is full of people during a holiday gathering. Food left on the stove is the biggest cause of kitchen fires.

Safety tips: If you have a real tree, water it every day because dry needles and wood catch fire more easily. Inspect light strands for worn or frayed cords before you place them on your tree, and make sure you’re not overloading electrical outlets. As for candles, keep them in sight and away from flammable items. When you leave your home, blow out candles and turn off your holiday lights. Also, make sure your smoke detectors are working.

7. Food poisoning

Bacteria multiply when food sits out for too long at holiday gatherings, causing food poisoning in those who eat it.

You can also get sick from eating uncooked cookie dough that contains contaminated flour or eggs, or consuming holiday foods such as eggnog or hollandaise sauce made with raw eggs that aren’t pasteurized, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Older adults are at higher risk of food poisoning because their immune systems and organs don’t recognize and get rid of harmful germs as well as they once did, the CDC says. Nearly half of people age 65 and older who get sick from salmonella, campylobacter, listeria or E. coli are hospitalized.

Safety tips: Cook food thoroughly (use a food thermometer), and refrigerate perishable foods within two hours. Use pasteurized eggs for foods containing raw eggs. For more food safety tips, check out these ways to safely store and use holiday leftovers.

8. Kids or adults ingesting things they shouldn’t

Example: A woman reported that she woke up to find a 4-year-old on the kitchen counter eating marijuana cookies that she had hidden in a Christmas box behind other items.

Levine says he has seen several cases where grandparents were the ones who accidentally ate marijuana brownies or gummies that belonged to their children or grandchildren. “They come in dizzy, thinking they are having a stroke,” he says. “If you are staying at someone else’s house, make sure you know what you’re eating.”

Another common holiday scenario is small children ingesting nonfood items that can be dangerous, such as small or sharp toy parts, button batteries or magnets.

The most dangerous item a child can ingest is adult medication, and it happens a lot, Levine says. Medications are tempting for children because they are small, round and colorful — just like candy.

“Grandparents come stay in their grandkids’ house, and they’re used to being by themselves, so they leave their medicines out on the counter or nightstand, whatever they normally do. Then we see kids get into those pills,” Levine says.

Safety tips: Put away toys with button batteries, magnets and small parts. Store medications in childproof containers out of the reach of children. If you think a child may have ingested something dangerous, call poison control at 800-222-1222.

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