Holiday Safety Tips: Christmas, Thanksgiving, and More

’Tis the season to be careful when celebrating the holidays.

By
&
Aliza Vigderman
Gabe TurnerChief Editor
Last Updated on Sep 24, 2021
By Aliza Vigderman & Gabe Turner on Sep 24, 2021

Holidays can be more than a bit hectic. You rush around from this store to that one, one family gathering to another, over the hills and through the woods. They’re also the times when accidents happen, though, and when thieves are most on the lookout for easy opportunities.

In other words, however pressed for time you may feel at this time of year, it’s important to take time out and think about your safety and the safety of your loved ones. In this guide, we discuss a wide variety of holiday dangers, from identity thieves to dried-out Christmas trees. After all, just a little extra caution can save a lot of heartache later.

Holiday Safety Tips

Let’s not waste any time. What exactly can you do to have a safer, more secure holiday season this year?

Home Security

First and foremost, as December approaches, you should take a close look at your home’s security. It’s sad but true that more home thefts occur over the holidays than at any other time of the year.1

For one thing, more of us are shopping online these days. Having packages delivered to your front porch is certainly convenient, but according to our own research, almost 40 percent of us have been porch piracy victims at some point. The COVID-19 pandemic increased package theft as well.

With these numbers in mind, we offer a few tips for tightening security around your house.

  1. General security tips: Your home should be a fortress. Here are some suggestions for keeping it that way.
    • Home security systems: We can’t emphasize this enough: The best way to make sure your home is safe is to invest in a great home security system. Door sensors, window sensors, motion detectors, and glass break sensors can let you know the moment someone tries to break in, even when you’re not at home. With home security cameras, you can even see what’s happening.
    • Professional monitoring: Even if you prefer to self-monitor your security system, consider spending the extra money for professional monitoring over the holidays. Many companies allow you to purchase a single month of monitoring, and with December so busy, why not let someone else take over for a few weeks? Check out our complete list of no-contract home security systems for some flexible options.
    • Holiday plans: It may be tempting to let your friends and family know what you’re up to over the holidays, but the best practice for home security when you’re on vacation is to resist the urge to post your plans on social media. This includes details about travel. Thieves like to monitor online spaces for hints about who is and isn’t at home. Don’t post information about presents either, since this alerts burglars to what you have that might be worth stealing. Finally, never share information about your kids on social media.
    • Gifts: Don’t just hide your gifts from your family and friends; hide them from thieves as well. Lock valuable gifts in a safe, and never leave gifts out near windows where burglars can snatch them.
    • Video doorbells: Video doorbells are particularly effective at stopping porch pirates. Many doorbells even have two-way audio so you can let thieves know you’re watching their every move. Don’t forget to report package theft as well, since this will let law enforcement know there could be a problem in your neighborhood.
    • Trash: Boxes at the curb alert thieves to what’s in your house, so break down packaging and place it in trash or recycling cans. Don’t put these cans out until trash day.
  2. When you’re away: Many of us head out of town in December. Leaving home creates some special challenges for home security. A little planning, though, can keep everything secure until you return.
    • Look like you’re home. Thieves prefer to break into houses when no one is at home. The best way to protect your home, then, is to make it look like you are there. For example, install smart lights and put them on a schedule so it looks like you’re up and roaming around. Make sure you’ve taken the trash out, and suspend your newspaper and mail service while you’re gone.
    • Trust your neighbors. The easiest way to make sure your home is safe when you’re out of town is to ask your neighbors to keep an eye on it. Most neighbors are glad to do this, since it helps ensure a safe neighborhood for everyone.
  3. Throwing a party: Everyone likes a good party, but throwing one means taking on some risks. These tips can help you protect your home at the same time you protect your party guests:
    • Childproof your home. If any of your guests are bringing their children, it’s a good idea to store your cleaning supplies securely and block off the stairs.
    • Put pets away. You can’t be certain which of your guests are afraid of dogs and which are allergic to cats. To be safe, lock up your pets or consider hiring a sitter for the evening.
    • Lock up valuables. Put expensive items such as jewelry in a safe so they aren’t a temptation.
    • Keep driveways and sidewalks clear. If your party takes place in the midst of winter weather, you should shovel off driveways and salt sidewalks before anyone arrives.
    • Help prevent drunk driving. If you’re serving alcohol at your party, you should take precautions to make sure everyone gets home safely. Serve nonalcoholic drinks for the designated drivers. Stop serving alcohol at least 90 minutes before the end of the party. And serve plenty of food so no one is drinking on an empty stomach.
    • Have a fire escape plan. Make sure everyone at your party knows where the exits are and how to get to them in case of an emergency.
  4. Out-of-town guests: Party guests all go home at the end of the evening, but what do you do to safeguard your home when out-of-town guests come to stay for a week?
    • Explain your security system. Let your guests know about your home security system as soon as they arrive. Make sure they understand what could trigger alarms.
    • Create guest passwords. Most home security systems and smart locks allow you to create guest passwords. That way, your guests can get into your house, even when you’re not home. Need buying advice? Check out our list of the best smart locks.
    • Have an emergency plan. Talk to guests about how to escape from your home in the event of an emergency. Make sure they know their way around your home well enough to find the exits on their own.

Decorating Safely

You may have a knack for hanging tinsel, but do you know how to decorate your home safely?

  1. Trees: Christmas trees can be a beautiful addition to a home in December, but they come with hidden dangers, so treat them properly.
    • You must water live Christmas trees regularly. Dried-out trees can easily catch fire.
    • If you buy a manufactured tree, check the label to make sure that it is fire-resistant.
    • Never string metallic trees with electric lights, which creates a risk of electrocution.
  2. Lights: Indoors or outdoors, you should never forget that lights run on electricity. Light safety means:
    • Buy LED rather than traditional holiday lights.
    • Before stringing lights, check for frayed cords and loose outlet connections.
    • Make sure you’ve unplugged the lights before you start hanging them.
    • Never connect more than three strands of incandescent lights together.
    • Use only outdoor-rated lights for outdoor lighting.
    • Always turn off lights when going out or going to bed. If you’ve installed low-cost smart light bulbs or smart light switches, you can even turn them off from bed.
    • Don’t overload electrical outlets. Most circuit breakers and fuses are designed to handle 15 or 20 amps, but to be safe, you should stay under 80 percent of that capacity. To determine how many amps you’re using, divide the wattage of the decorations by 120, which is the number of volts running through most homes.2
  3. Candles and fireplaces: It goes without saying that open flames in the home present a significant danger. These are some best practices for fire safety and prevention when it comes to candles and fireplaces:
    • Keep combustibles — including stockings — at least 3 feet away from heat sources.
    • Prepare your fireplace for winter before you use it. If you have any doubts about whether your hearth is ready, call a professional.
    • Don’t place candles near high-traffic areas where someone could knock them over.
    • Install smoke detectors as part of your home security system. Be certain you haven’t turned your smoke alarm off. If your smoke alarm beeps, change the batteries right then.
  4. Tools: Depending on how elaborate your holiday decorating is, you may find yourself relying on a number of tools, from ladders to staple guns. Whenever you’re working with tools like these, it’s important to follow basic safety protocols:
    • Use proper safety equipment such as insulated work gloves and shatterproof goggles.
    • Make sure you are familiar and proficient with any tools you’re using.
    • Always ask someone to hold your ladder when you’re climbing.
    • Know when it’s better to ask a professional to do your decorating:
      • In cold, icy weather
      • When dealing with complex electrical tasks
      • When working on second-story projects
      • When using dangerous or unfamiliar tools
  5. Additional holiday hazards: Finally, be aware of decorations themselves, as sometimes they too can present safety challenges. Many older ornaments, for example, contain lead paint, so keep them away from children. When purchasing new decorations, always look for flame-resistant, flame-retardant, or noncombustible materials.

Shopping

More shopping happens between Thanksgiving and Christmas than at any other time of the year. Americans spent over $755.3 billion, for instance, during the 2020 holidays.3 Thieves are always looking for ways to get a piece of this action.

What can you do to protect yourself? Be vigilant, whether you’re at the mall, stopping by the ATM, or browsing for gifts online.

  1. At the store: While the amount of online shopping increases every year, people continue to shop in brick-and-mortar stores as well. If you’re out braving the crowds this December, keep these tips in mind:
    • Protect your belongings. We’re tired and distracted when we’re out shopping. In that state, we make great targets for pickpockets. Know where your purse and wallet are at all times.
    • High-tech thieves have begun using RFID readers that can scan your credit card while it’s still in your wallet. Invest in wallets that block these readers.
    • Pay attention at the checkout. Our identity theft consumer study makes it clear that identity theft is a billion-dollar business. Thieves stole almost 21 billion American identities in 2020 alone. There are plenty of unscrupulous retail employees out there looking to steal your credit card number. Make sure store clerks don’t double-scan your credit or debit cards and that they return them to you promptly. Also, keep your receipts in case someone decides to use your card without authorization.
  2. ATMs: You may be more vulnerable at the ATM than at any other place you go. After all, everyone knows that when you walk up to that machine, you’re going to walk away with money in your wallet. Use caution.
    • Don’t leave your bank card lying around.
    • Keep your PIN a secret. To help make sure it stays a secret, shield your hand when you’re typing the number into the ATM.
    • Have your card in your hand before you get to the machine so you can get your cash quickly.
    • As you approach the ATM, look for any skimming devices that a thief might have attached to it.
    • Don’t count your money while you’re at the ATM. Put it in your wallet immediately and count it once you’re in a safe location.
    • If you drive up to an ATM, keep your windows and doors locked.
    • Save all your receipts so you have a clear record of just how much you withdraw each time you visit the ATM.4
  3. Online shopping: Credit card fraud statistics are staggering. According to our research, over 20 million American adults had their identities stolen in 2020 alone. Most of that theft happens when we’re online. Here are a few tips for protecting yourself:

Attending Parties

Before you head out for a good time, think about your safety.

  • Don’t advertise online that you’re going to a party.
  • Leave your valuables at home.
  • To be extra careful, avoid carrying large amounts of cash; only bring what you need.
  • Make sure you lock your car when you arrive, including all doors and windows.5
  • Plan how you’ll get home. For example, if you’ll be drinking, make arrangements for a ride ahead of time.
  • Be cautious with your drinking.
  • Never leave your food or drink unattended, since it only takes a second for someone to doctor it.6

Cooking Safety

The kitchen is the heart of the home, especially in November and December. It can be a dangerous place, though. For instance, home cooking fires are the No. 1 type of residential fire each year, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Take these precautions to minimize the dangers that come with cooking:

  1. Stay in the kitchen. It may be tempting to check what everyone else is doing in the living room, but you should never leave cooking food unattended. When you’re working with stoves and ovens, you never know when something may catch fire.
  2. Be especially careful with turkey fryers. Turkey fryers are a special kind of dangerous. For one thing, they tip over easily, which can cause the oil to ignite. If you overfill the fryer, oil can spill down the sides when you put the turkey in. Even if everything goes smoothly, you risk severe burns just from the heat of the handles and lid. The truth is, you’re better off avoiding turkey fryers altogether. If you must fry your turkey, keep these tips in mind:
    • Always do your frying outdoors.
    • Place your fryer on a flat, level surface.
    • Never leave the fryer unattended.
    • Keep a fire extinguisher handy.
    • Be certain that your turkey is completely thawed, since ice crystals in hot oil can cause explosions.
    • Put the turkey in slowly so the oil doesn’t spill.
    • Use safety tools such as oven mitts, gloves, and goggles.
    • Keep children and pets away from the fryer.
    • Remember that the oil will stay hot for hours after you’ve finished.7
  3. Beware of food poisoning. Fire isn’t the only danger in cooking. Food poisoning can turn a great holiday feast into a disaster. As you prepare the meal, remember:
    • Wash your hands thoroughly before you begin.
    • Wash food thoroughly as well.
    • Keep your food items separate to avoid cross-contamination.
    • Thaw raw meat completely.
    • Cook foods at the proper temperatures.
    • Refrigerate foods that need it.
    • Make sure you’ve cooked your stuffing thoroughly. The easiest way to do this is to cook it separately from the turkey. If you stuff the turkey, though, measure the temperature in the middle of the stuffing. You must cook it at 165 degrees Fahrenheit to eliminate bacteria.8

Keeping Your Kids Safe

No one loves the holidays more than children. At the same time, no one is more vulnerable than children. Your kids will be caught up in the excitement of the season, so it’s up to you to watch out for them.

  • Go over safety rules. Let your kids know how to stay safe. Talk to them, for instance, about staying away from candles and other open flames. Remind them to stay near you when you’re out shopping. Caution them about opening the door to strangers. And don’t forget about their online safety. Child identity theft has become a big business in the last several years because kids have clean credit reports. In our own survey of 600 parents, 14 percent reported that their child’s identity had been stolen at some point in their lives.
  • Give safe gifts. Giving your children safe gifts means making sure those gifts are age-appropriate. Don’t give kids under 3 anything with small parts that they could swallow. Be sure toys are sturdy and don’t contain toxic paints. Finally, supervise your kids as they try out their new toys.

Safe Travels

You’ve made sure your home is secure. When you go out of town, though, don’t forget to protect yourself, whether you’re driving or flying.

  1. Driving: Whether Grandma lives on the other side of the state or the other side of the country, if you’re driving there, take these safety measures:
    • Have a clear plan. Know the route you’ll be taking and make sure your GPS is working properly before you leave.
    • Stay in contact with family and friends. It’s a good idea to check in with people while you’re on the road so they can chart your progress.
    • Get your car checked before you leave. Change the oil and tires, of course, but you should also consider having a trusted mechanic examine the engine and brakes.
    • Carry tools and a spare tire. You can’t fix everything that might go wrong with your car, but changing a tire beats waiting for a tow truck to arrive.
    • Bring supplies. Even if you don’t have any car trouble, it’s a good idea to pack extra food and blankets to keep you comfortable during the drive. And if you do break down, you’ll have what you need.
  2. Flying: Prefer to fly rather than drive? You still need to take some precautions.
    • Even post-pandemic, you should wash your hands and maintain social distance, if possible. When you’re sitting close to strangers, you never know what germs you might encounter.
    • Use travel locks on your luggage.
    • Keep money and valuables on your person, and never leave your bags unattended.
    • Don’t drink too much. Flights can be long and tedious, but you need to be aware of your surroundings and alert to security risks like pickpockets.
  3. Hotels: Finally, if you have to stay at a hotel or motel overnight, take these safety measures:
    • Research the place you’re staying.
    • Know the fire escape plan.
    • Keep your curtains closed.
    • Minimize how often people come into your room. Place Do Not Disturb signs on your door, for instance, and request towels manually rather than letting the maid service in every day.
    • If you’re heading to a vacation home rather than a relative’s, outfit that space with a vacation home security system.

Staying Healthy

With all that goes on in November and December, too many of us neglect our health. You can’t enjoy parties and caroling if you’re in bed with a cold or, worse, in the hospital after a car accident. Take care of yourself.

  • Wash your hands frequently.
  • Bundle up and stay warm.
  • Despite all the temptations, try to eat healthily.
  • Don’t give up on exercise just because you’re busy.
  • Use your seat belts.
  • Don’t drink and drive.
  • Don’t skip health exams and screenings just because it’s December.
  • Stay up to date on any vaccinations.
  • Take time to relax and de-stress.

Holiday Safety Statistics

Need more reasons to take safety seriously this holiday season? Just look at the statistics from years past. What they reveal is that we could all be a little more careful while we’re enjoying ourselves.

  • Cooking mishaps: More than 1,700 cooking fires happen on Thanksgiving each year. That adds up to more than $9.7 million in property damage over the last 20 years.
  • Decoration disasters: You might be surprised to learn that emergency rooms in the U.S. treat 17,500 people each year for holiday decorating-related injuries. More than 100 Christmas trees go up in flames, and candles cause over 1,100 fires.
  • Toy hazards: 162,700 kids show up in ERs each year for toy-related injuries.9
  • Travel accidents: The highest numbers of traffic accidents and fatalities occur over the holidays. The most recent data shows that over 1,600 driving fatalities occurred during Thanksgiving and Christmas 2018.10

Recap

Can the holidays be stressful? Absolutely. Between watching your wallet and making sure you don’t burn the house down frying a turkey, there’s a lot to worry about. With just a little vigilance, though, you can have a joyful, safe holiday season.

FAQs

Still have questions about holiday safety? Check out our answers to some of the most commonly asked.

  • How do I survive the holidays?

    To survive the holidays, you need to pay attention to your safety and security. That means raising your awareness in a number of important areas.

      Home security: Install a home security system.
      Decorating: Water live trees regularly and turn off holiday lights before bed.
      Shopping: Use a VPN when purchasing gifts online.
      Attending parties: Don’t advertise online when you’ll be gone.
      Child safety: Give age-appropriate gifts.
      Traveling: Have your car checked thoroughly before long trips.
      Cooking: Avoid deep-frying turkeys.
      Overall health: Take time to relax and de-stress.
  • How do you keep your pets safe during the holidays?

    You can keep your pets safe over the holidays by keeping their routines as normal as possible. The ASPCA says you should:

    • Minimize your use of tinsel, candles, holly, and mistletoe.
    • Anchor your tree.
    • Keep any nearby extension cords out of the way of your tree.
    • Feed your pets normally. Resist the urge to give animals holiday treats.
    • Provide your pets with a safe space when you have guests. Place them in crates or quiet rooms if you’re hosting a party, or consider leaving them with pet sitters.
  • How many people are injured each year decorating for the holidays?

    According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, 17,500 Americans are injured decorating for the holidays each year.

  • Can artificial Christmas trees catch fire?

    Artificial Christmas trees can catch on fire. While the National Fire Protection Association says live trees cause more than three times more fires than artificial trees, artificial trees can still go up in flames.

    However, most artificial trees are now flame-resistant, and many come with flame-retardant coating. You can also buy flame-retardant coating and spray it on your tree yourself. However, a large enough fire can overwhelm even these safety measures.

Citations
  1. CNN Money. (2013). Burglaries jump during the holidays.
    money.cnn.com/2013/12/27/real_estate/christmas-burglaries/index.html

  2. HowStuffWorks. (2021). How many things can you plug into an electrical outlet before it catches fire?
    home.howstuffworks.com/home-improvement/household-safety/outlet-overload.htm

  3. Statista. (2021). Holiday retail sales in the United States 2000-2020.
    statista.com/statistics/243439/holiday-retail-sales-in-the-united-states/

  4. American Bankers Association. ATM Safety Tips.
    aba.com/advocacy/community-programs/consumer-resources/protect-your-money/atm-safety-tips

  5. Los Angeles Police Department. Holiday Safety Tips.
    lapdonline.org/crime_prevention/content_basic_view/1376

  6. Better Health Channel. Partying safely – tips for teenagers.
    betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/HealthyLiving/partying-safely-tips-for-teenagers

  7. National Park Service. Fire Prevention 52: Deep Fried Danger – Deep Fried Turkey.
    nps.gov/articles/p52-deep-fried-turkey-fire-safety.htm

  8. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Food Safety Tips for Holiday Turkey.
    cdc.gov/foodsafety/communication/holiday-turkey.html

  9. United States Consumer Product Safety Commission. Holiday Safety Information Center.
    cpsc.gov/Safety-Education/Safety-Education-Centers/holiday-safety

  10. U.S. Department of Transportation. (2019). Estimate of Motor Vehicle Traffic Crash Fatalities for the Holiday Periods of 2019.
    crashstats.nhtsa.dot.gov/Api/Public/ViewPublication/812823