Archive for Sunday, December 13, 1998


December 13, 1998


Deck the halls with boughs of holly -- just make sure they're out of the reach of children and pets.

Kiss under the mistletoe, but don't eat any.

It's poisonous.

Many holiday decorations can be dangerous. Live Christmas trees can be flammable. Holly berries are poisonous. Poinsettias can make pets sick.

But there's no need to throw all the traditional decorations out; simple precautions can keep Christmas safe.

Poisonous decorations

While greenery and splashes of red may lend a holiday ambiance to the home, some holiday decorations are toxic. Families with small children need to be careful of their placement of mistletoe and holly when decorating the house. The berries from both plants are poisonous if eaten.

If a child does ingest the berries, call the Mid-American Poison Control Center in Kansas City, Kan., at (800) 332-6633.

"We're here 24 hours a day, even on Christmas," the center's Tama Sawyer said. "Just give us a call."

Sawyer recommended families with small children not decorate with holly or mistletoe, even if they are secured above a child's reach.

"Where there's a will there's a way," she said.

On the other hand, she said "poinsettias have gotten a bad rap." The plant can cause stomachaches, but a person would have to eat a lot of poinsettia to do serious harm.

Elaine Houston, a nurse with the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department, recommends that parents with small children be careful with all decorations.

"You forget that they chew on everything, and everything goes in their mouth," she said.

Parents should use only nonbreakable ornaments on branches of the Christmas tree within toddlers' reach and secure the tree to the wall.

"It's childproofing your house," she said. "Just be sure to include Christmas decorations in the childproofing."

Petproof, too

It's also a good idea to keep pets in mind when decorating for the holidays.

Veterinarian John Bradley of Bradley Animal Hospital had tips for keeping pets safe at the holidays. Cats and dogs face some of the same dangers small children do -- poisonous plants and tempting trees.

Holly and mistletoe are poisonous for pets, too. They should be kept out of the reach of animals. Poinsettias, though they don't pose much of a problem for people, can cause pets problems.

The leaves and sap can cause severe upset stomachs. Chocolate can be poisonous to pets, too, so keep candy away from them.

If your pet likes to chew, watch it around the Christmas tree. Pine needles can be sharp enough to puncture intestines if ingested. Tinsel and ribbon, though fun to play with, can wrap around a pet's intestines or ball up in its stomach.

Fire-free holiday

Live Christmas trees aren't poisonous, but they can be fire hazards. There were eight house fires caused by Christmas trees and five caused by lights in 1997 in Kansas.

"If people use artificial trees, that's in our opinion the safest kind of trees," Lawrence Fire Marshal Rich Barr said. Artificial trees should be made of fire retardant material.

For traditionalists who like live pines or spruces, the trick to being safe is keeping the tree from drying out. Barr recommends cutting an inch to two inches off the base when the tree is brought home and placing it right in water. Trees shouldn't be placed near heat vents or fireplaces. After that, make sure the tree always has water. If it runs out, the bottom of the tree can start to seal, making it hard to keep hydrated.

If the tree begins shedding needles, it is probably dried out. Dry trees need to be removed as soon as possible after the holiday. People can also check the tree's needles to see if it is still fresh.

"If it snaps, it's dry," he said.

Fire safety should be kept in mind while decorating the tree, too.

"Tradition or not, candles don't belong on live Christmas trees," Barr said.

When getting out Christmas lights for the tree or for the home, people should carefully check the strands.

Barr said they need to be checked for frayed wires and missing lights.

"Typically, those lights aren't meant to be repaired," he said, so it isn't a good idea to fix strands with electrician's tape. They should just be replaced.

"We prefer you use a power strip," Barr said, rather than extension cords or other methods of powering Christmas lights. Power strips have internal circuit breakers.

"It provides some protection," he said. "If they get too many lights on them, they turn off."

It's also convenient, he said. One switch on the power strip can be used to turn all the lights on and off. Christmas trees should be switched off when people leave the house, he said.

-- Felicia Haynes' phone message number is 832-7173. Her e-mail address is

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