Signs of the season

Published in What’s Up: Canada’s Family Magazine, Holiday 2012

Christmas isn’t just decorations and presents. Some other signs of the season are, unfortunately, injury and illness. Especially at the holidays, you can never be too careful … 

Often, the more mundane or seemingly benign aspects of our lives can be surprisingly dangerous. Such as stairs. People die from stair injuries every year, and tens of thousands of children in Canada will end up in the Emergency room as the result of a fall on stairs. And that’s just, well, stairs.

Christmas, too, can be surprisingly hazardous—surprising because we think of it in terms of hearth and home. Safe as houses, as they say. But in a sort of perverse irony, injuries of all kinds spike at the holidays.  We let down our guard, and it shows.


In 2001, there was an outbreak of salmonella, and the Public Health Agency Canada reported that “Because many of the patients became ill during or shortly after the Christmas season, the investigation is looking closely at seasonal foods.” Turkey can be lethal, as it was that year. Health Canada notes that, to be safe, cook the bird right away, or freeze it right away; don’t thaw it at room temperature, but rather in water or the fridge; and cook it to an internal temperature of at least 85°C (185°F).

Tree fires

We know not to put lit candles on a tree, or otherwise bring fire to a Christmas tree. What lots of us don’t know, apparently, is also not to take the tree to fire. Every year lots of people think that putting the branches into a fireplace is reasonable enough. It isn’t. A dry evergreen is as flammable as napalm. Be careful with it. Keep it watered while it’s up, and take it to the curb once you take it down.  The Canada Safety Council also notes to avoid using angel hair (glass wool) together with spray-on snowflakes. The combination is highly, perversely, combustible. Like napalm.

Turkey Fires

We like turkey, don’t we, which makes one wonder why we always try to improve on what is already a good thing. But, somewhere along the line, somebody—I’m suspecting it was likely a guy, as this sounds like a pretty masculine idea—thought, “I wonder what it would be like if it were deep fried.” Hence the deep fat turkey fryer. Here’s what it really is: an unstable bucket of overheated oil. Turkey fryers are also shockingly flammable. The Alberta Emergency Management Agency made a video of a fireman putting a partially thawed turkey into a fryer. The resulting flames may look festive from a distance I suppose, but a real holiday shocker close up.


In all provinces, there is a spike in collisions at Christmas, and in 2011 the Alberta Transportation office reported that “The five day Christmas season recorded the highest total number of collisions.” It wasn’t the most fatal holiday that year—that was the Labour Day long weekend—but it was the most accident prone.


Only at the holidays do we get up on ladders and string our houses and trees with electric lights. And if we don’t fall from the ladder, or shock ourselves on frayed cords, or start a fire by using to many extension chords that aren’t snugly plugged together, or get frostbite because we’re not wearing gloves, then we’ll be able to step back and admire our handy work. But all those things do happen to someone—indeed lots of someones each year.


The Grinch is the meany of Christmas, of course, but CBC reported in 2009 that we perhaps shouldn’t be so hard on him. “When people think about depression they often think about people being sad,” they quoted Cynthia Bulik, a psychologist with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “But that’s not always how depression expresses itself. Sometimes people who are depressed might get really irritable, and really grumpy and they can really withdraw socially.”

And, indeed, it’s fitting that the Grinch’s tizzy happens at the holidays, as that’s when these things are put in their starkest contrast. People are lonely, or miss loved ones due to distance or death, or are disappointed that the holidays don’t rise to the level of their expectations. We need to look out for them. And if we are feeling blue, we need to remember speak up and talk to a friend or a counselor. It’s one of the best things you can do for yourself at the holidays.

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