The holidays are a joyous time of year, aren't they? The good food, the great times with family and friends, that thickening waistline, and the mad rush and second job you need to get the perfect gifts. Not to mention the dangers that are associated with the holiday season, including everything from gift opening wounds to fires. The holidays can be a dangerous time of year; being prepared can help keep you safe.

1. Fires

According to the National Fire Protection Association, each year Christmas trees cause 210 structure fires, and an additional 150 home fires involve decorative holiday lighting. These fires cost the lives of about 20 people annually. You can make sure your home is as safe as possible from holiday related fires.

  • Choose your tree wisely. If you go for an artificial tree, make sure it is fire retardant. There will be a label or a certification that declares it so by the manufacturer. If you choose a real tree, make sure it is cut 1-2" from the base of the trunk, and is at least three feet away from any heat source. Don't block any exits with the tree, and water it daily.
  • Light the tree correctly. Make sure your tree lights have been tested by an independent laboratory. Some lights are for indoors and some are not. Replace any worn or broken cords or loose bulbs. Follow the manufacturer's instructions and connect no more strands than are allowed. Never light the tree with candles and never leave your home or go to bed with the lights left on.
  • Know when to take down your tree. Dried-out trees are a fire danger. When yours starts dropping lots of needles, it's time for it to go. Make sure to dispose of it properly; don' t leave it in your home or garage or propped against any part of your house. Your community probably has a program to pick up or drop off your tree. And be sure to bring your outdoor lights in.

2. Choking

The holidays bring many new items of curiosity for small children. And curious little children like to stick these things in their mouths. Tinsel, ornaments, and holiday lights can all pose a choking threat, as well as holiday foods like peanuts and popcorns. So be sure to keep any of these and other small items out of the reach of children. However, during the holidays, adults are at an increased risk of choking too. According to the Red Cross this is because we tend to indulge during the holidays, and actions such as drinking alcohol while eating, eating while talking or laughing, eating too fast, or walking with food in your mouth can all lead to choking. Be careful, and know what to do if a family member chokes.

3. Poisonous Holiday Plants

Mistletoe and holly berries are festive decorations for the holidays, but they are also poisonous. Though not fatal, many holiday plants, including poinsettias, can make children sick if eaten. Be aware of which plants you have in your home, especially ones you haven't purchased yourself, so that you know which ones need to placed out of the reach of children and pets.

4. Cooking Mishaps

Cooking up a feast can lead to fire; in fact, 1 in 8 homes will experience a cooking fire this year. According to the U.S. Fire Administration, the numbers go up during the holidays, especially on Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, and Christmas day. Here's some tips from the U.S. Fire Administration to stay safe.

  • Don't leave frying, grilling, or broiling food unattended.
  • If you are simmering, baking, roasting, or boiling food, check it regularly and use a timer.
  • Stay alert. Don't drink alcohol or take medications that may make you drowsy right before cooking.
  • Keep anything flammable away from your stove.
  • Roll up your sleeves while cooking.
  • Follow all rules for any appliances, including that new turkey fryer.
  • Never try to put out a cooking fire alone. Call 911.

5. Gift Opening Wounds

Seems laughable, but we've all struggled to open those plastic packages at least once. According to USA Today, during the week after Christmas, emergency rooms see an increase in people injured trying to open plastic packages. Don't use a knife to try to open up that Barbie doll or electronic device. If you're going to attempt to open these packages with scissors, proceed with caution. Your best bet? Purchase one of these devices made specifically for opening plastic packages. They'd also make a great stocking stuffer.

6. Decorating Disasters

During the holidays, decorating can lead to disaster even if you don't have a Christmas tree. Hanging any decorations outside is dangerous, especially during wet weather. Take proper precautions when hanging wreaths or lights outside and stay off your roof. The American College of Emergency Physicians offers these tips when using a ladder:

  • Keep the ladder on secure and level ground.
  • Keep both feet on the ladder at all times and stay centered. (Never stand on those top two rungs.)
  • Make sure the ladder is opened and locked securely.
  • Always have a ladder buddy with you holding the ladder steady.
  • If you must go on the roof, make sure your ladder extends three feet beyond the edge of the roof.

If you are using candles to set the holiday mood, use proper safety precautions. Never leave candles unattended or within reach of pets or children. Keep any candles away from any other decorations or flammable items.

For more tips on keeping your home and family safe this holiday season, visit the Consumer Products Safety Commission's holiday safety guide. There are far too many opportunities for accidents during the excitement of the holidays. Being prepared is your best way to stay safe.