On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…

Fact Checked
Updated 15/12/2023
On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…

Twelve Avoidable Holiday Accidents, with help from the AMA.

Time to read : 5 Minutes

On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…


Electrical burns?

Poison berries?

While we all hope for a peaceful end of the year, the holiday season brings an uptick in emergency room admissions, at a time when our hospitals are operating with limited resources. 

In NSW alone, around 10,000 patients are treated in emergency rooms over the festive season, with roughly 2000 people brought in by ambulance^.

Christmas hazards?

So while this article won’t immediately save you money, the kind of injuries and accidents below can cost you in the long run.

It’s a good idea to check everything from your hospital cover, to your home insurance, and even your pet insurance, given the likelihood of your dog wolfing down something it shouldn’t.

So what are some common Christmas injuries? Let’s look to America. A study released in the USA last year found that:

  • 2,839 people were injured setting up Christmas tree stands.

  • 36,054 admissions were attributable to electrical decorations.

  • 80,208 people were injured by non-electrical decorations.

  • 2,305 were caused by Christmas presents (lego-step feet cuts included).

  • 17,298 admissions came from artificial Christmas trees.

  • 2,216 injuries were from real trees…

…and this one:

  • 277 kids were injured from falling off Santa’s lap.

Why you should check your hospital cover:

So this is our annual reminder to check: 

  • Your hospital cover is current.

  • You have your emergency numbers to hand.

  • Your meds are stocked up (many pharmacies close over the break).

  • You’re insured for additional holiday activities you might find yourself diving into.

Some Christmas-related injuries are amusing, but the AMA has issued their annual plea for us to stay safe and think before we…well, celebrate. 

The list below isn’t as catchy as the twelve days of Christmas, but it does offer a few handy holiday reminders.

12 Avoidable Holiday Accidents:

1. Allergies: This is a common one, especially for nuts. Check any prepackaged food ingredient lists, and take care with dishes brought into your home.  Be Aware: Edible holiday decorations and ornaments aren’t subject to the same safety standards as our food products.

2. Alcohol: Alcohol can make us less careful in the kitchen, at the table, on (or in) the water, and when setting up your decorations (think, tipsy twinkly lights). Be smart about when you drink.^^  Kids have been known to sip remaining ‘bits’ and - you guessed it - end up in hospital. One way to avoid this holiday ‘tradition’ is to tip out all the dregs from adults’ drinks at the end of your event. Also, it goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: never drink and drive. Always have a designated driver and a backup plan.

3. Choking: Small parts from toys, bon bons (crackers), popped balloons, etc. are a choking hazard for young children and pets. Any fragile decorations ought to be placed out of reach as well.  Many novelty decorations (e.g. stuffed Santas, reindeer, snowmen, etc.) may look like toys but - again - decorative ornaments don’t have to comply with toy safety standards. Make sure you know what to do if someone does start choking.

4. Decorations: Over 1,000 people each year are injured while decorating their Christmas tree - mostly as they attempt to add decorations to the higher branches. Avoid perching on unstable chairs or stools. Use a ladder - and remember it’s a two person job (one that’s best done sober).

5. Fairy Lights: Around 350 people a year are injured by Christmas tree lights in Australia. Common injuries include children swallowing the bulbs, and adults ending up with electrical burns.

  • One in 40 people per year end up in emergency due to electric shocks from badly wired Christmas lights. 

  • Avoid overloading your power sockets (are you insured for house fires?) and turn off your lights at night. 

  • Finally, at least 26 people died by electrocution in 2019 because they watered their Christmas trees with the lights on.* Unplug the lights before watering your tree. (I know 26 isn’t a lot but who wants to go out that way, or even at all?)

6. Festive flames and fires: People are 50% more likely to die in a house fire during the festive season than at any other time of the year.

  • Keep any Christmas cards, paper decorations and your Christmas tree away from any candles, cigarettes, and BBQs. Ensure tealight candles are in a suitable container to prevent burning through baths and televisions (yes, it happens). 

  • Check that your smoke alarms are working, and the battery is fresh. 

  • Blow out all your candles before heading to bed.

7. Food poisoning: Every holiday season sees close to a million cases of food poisoning present at hospital emergency departments - and there are probably at least that many websites with instructions for the proper preparation of your holiday foodstuffs.

  • Read over any cooking instructions carefully, and if you’re doing a turkey remember it takes hours to cook that bird properly. Hours!

  • Undercooked turkey is the most common cause of holiday season salmonella.# This can be very serious for the elderly and young children.

  • Be Aware: It’s no myth; chocolate really is toxic for your dog.

8. Killer Kitchen: The most dangerous room in your home is your kitchen. 

  • Hot pans.

  • Boiling water. 

  • Sharp knives.

  • Short tempers (realistically the hardest hazard to work around).

A recent survey found that 49% of respondents suffered an accident during Christmas food preparation, including 10% spilling hot fat on themselves and 20% cutting themselves while slicing up fruit and veg. Carving injuries (as in ham and/or turkey, not wood) are pretty common too. If you’re the cook, keep the kids and any pets outside; 10% of children’s holiday harm happens in the kitchen. The cook or cooks certainly deserve a drink, but maybe save the wine for later?

9. Plants: Okay, this one’s important. Holly and mistletoe are pretty, traditional, festive - and poisonous. The berries contain toxins that slow your heart rate and cause hallucinations.

The Jerusalem Cherry (aka the Christmas Cherry) is a European tradition that’s becoming more popular in Australia. Likewise, the Christmas Rose. If you prefer the real thing to a plastic version, bear in mind that the orange berries on your Christmas Cherry can cause stomach pains. Ingesting the Christmas Rose may result in violent diarrhoea.

10. Batteries: It’s great to get a holiday gift you can set up and enjoy right away, but while our safety regulations cover batteries in children’s products, novelty items such as flashing santa hats or musical cards are not policed the same way. 

  • Button batteries are easy for young kids - and pets - to swallow. They release corrosive acid, burning your intestines and causing internal bleeding. Lithium batteries in particular, can kill a child within hours of being ingested.

  • If you have the slightest suspicion your (or any) child has swallowed a battery, don’t wait. Take them to emergency immediately or call an ambulance. 

  • Many small holiday gifts contain tiny magnets too. These can damage your child’s gut if swallowed.

  • Keep all batteries and magnets secured safely inside toys, remote controls, cards and any other gadgets. 

 11. Toy Assembly: Quite a lot of Christmas injuries occur because people are struggling with difficult packaging while a small child wails beside them, so they grab an inappropriate tool and…Christmas quickly becomes less merry. 

Having a few screwdrivers and scissors handy (but safely out of reach of small hands) can save you all a lot of pain - literally.

12. Beware the bubbly: Champagne cork missiles are more common than you’d think. Sometimes the shooting cork hits an eye socket. Other times it’s a failed attempt to replicate ‘slicing’ it with a sharp knife (it works in the movies, right?). 

Looking suave, while tipsy and struggling to pop your cork is a skill many of us simply don’t possess. Try this: 

Tips for breaking out your bubbly safely:

  1. Hold the cork down to twist off the wire.

  2. Use a towel while levering out your cork.

  3. Angle your bottle 45-degrees away from yourself and others - and check the whereabouts of your pets before you go off. 

No one wants to spend Christmas day in an emergency vet’s waiting room because you shot your shitzu with your champers!

The bottom line:

Decorations, dodgy lights, well-meaning guests, too many cooks and houses bursting with excitable kids and delighted pets come with a lot of potential hazards. 

Add in some seasonal stress and plenty of alcohol and you can end up with a recipe for disaster rather than festive cheer. 

It’s okay if your festive event takes more time because you’re taking more care, and doing it more safely - or choosing to avoid doing it at all. You’ll look far cooler without the ambulance outside your place, and enjoy your holiday season far more too.

I wish you the happiest, safest, and most joyous holiday season imaginable. See you in 2024.

PS: Did you know that 600,000 people have burnt themselves whilst roasting chestnuts on an open fire. (Okay this doesn’t really apply to Australians, but it’s a great song, a staggering statistic - and another injury that’s best avoided.)

Financial disclaimer The information contained on this web page is of general nature only and has been prepared without taking into consideration your objectives, needs and financial situation. You should check with a financial professional before making any decisions. Any opinions expressed within an article are those of the author and do not specifically reflect the views of Compare Club Australia Pty Ltd.
^The Season for Increased Injuries
*Mishaps of Christmas
^^Top reasons for hospitalisations over the holidays
#What it's like to work a hospital holiday shift