'Tis the season to be jolly careful
With a little forethought and a dollop of common sense, you can cut the risk of accidents or illness at Christmas, writes CLAIRE O'CONNELL
Christmas. Whether you approach it with zeal or resignation, you have to admit it’s a time that’s different.
Houses are decked out with festive plants such as mistletoe and holly, kids are racing around with their new toys and – if recent Irish winters are anything to go by – you may find yourself walking to and from parties in snowy conditions.
While the idea is to celebrate, the festive period is not without its hazards. But with a little forethought and a dollop of common sense, you can help reduce the risk of accidents or illness marring the happy occasion.
Don’t eat the decorations
Nothing says “Christmas party” like a sprig of mistletoe over the doorway, but while the cheery-looking plant might be great for stealing kisses, eating it is not recommended. Similarly, holly’s red berries bring festive cheer, but again it’s a case of admiring rather than ingesting them.
Why could eating these Christmas plants make us sick? It’s partly down to their defences, says Dr Noeleen Smyth, a researcher and conservation botanist at the National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin.
“Plants can’t move around, they can’t get away from predators, so they have physical defences like thorns or prickly leaves, or they contain toxic compounds,” she says. “If a plant makes itself unpalatable to a mammal or an insect it has a better chance of survival.”
Mistletoe and holly berries as well as cyclamen and amaryllis bulbs contain chemical compounds that can result in illness when eaten, says Smyth.
Safe steps for kids
Plants aren’t the only festive additions in the house to keep an eye on. The influx of batteries – particularly the small ones – can be a potential hazard if kids swallow them.
“You have to be careful: when you get the batteries put them into the toy straight away and make sure they are well sealed,” says Prof Alf Nicholson, consultant paediatrician and professor of paediatrics at the Children’s University Hospital, Temple Street, Dublin.
In general, the types of injuries the hospital’s accident and emergency department sees at Christmas tend to be the same as those that occur during the rest of the winter months, he says.
Head injuries, cuts and sprains are the main issues, and there tends to be a “little spike” in the number of incidents around the festive period, says Nicholson.
“Children are off school, at home, they are going from home to relatives’ houses and they are cycling bikes for the first time,” he says. “And not every child wears a bicycle helmet, which is a shame, but most are not too expensive, they are quite cool and it has been proven every were they are introduced that they significantly protect children against severe head injuries.”
Children should also wear high-visibility clothes, have lights on their bikes and avoid areas of heavy traffic. “Most of it is common sense,” he says.
Toys with small parts can be a hazard for small children, who can shove the pieces up their noses or put them into their mouths and potentially inhale them, says Nicholson.
He adds that parents should also safeguard open fires, check their smoke alarms are working, extinguish lights and candles at night, and watch out for children pulling down hot drinks such as tea, coffee and mulled wine.