| December 3, 2012

The holidays are traditionally a time to kick back at home with the family and put depressing thoughts—like death, for example—aside in exchange for fuzzier feelings of comfort and joy.

Unfortunately, the Grim Reaper is not one to take a holiday, even if it's Christmas, Hanukkah, or New Year's Eve. His handiwork often manifests itself in some of our favorite holiday home traditions, too, from living room Christmas trees, which catch fire and kill about 15 of us each year, to backyard sledding, which sends more than 33,000 of us to the hospital annually.

To make sure death doesn't nab a seat at your holiday table this year, we took a look at the different ways he tries to sideline this most wonderful time of the year. The hope is that you'll avoid his sinister plans so that you can savor the comforts and joys of many holidays to come.

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Photo: imagebroker/Alamy
Christmas Tree Fires

You'd think by now we'd have this whole Christmas tree safety thing down. But each year, hundreds of house fires start at the Christmas tree, resulting in about 15 deaths and $13 million in property damage. You can avoid tannenbaum tragedies by taking some very simple precautions, such as selecting a fresh tree, watering it once a day, and keeping it away from fireplaces and heating fixtures.

Photo: Chad Ehlers/Alamy
Lighting Disasters

Outdoing our neighbors with Clark Griswold–like holiday lighting displays is as American as greasy fast food and suburban sprawl. Just try not to make house fires a part of your annual holiday tradition. Avoid Christmastime conflagrations with simple measures, such as using indoor lights inside and outdoor lights outside, checking for cracked or broken sockets and frayed wires, and limiting yourself to three strands of lights per extension cord. During the two months surrounding the holiday season, more than 14,000 people are treated in hospital emergency rooms for injuries related to holiday decorating each year.

Photo: Getty Images/Omer Knaz
Poisonous Plants

Oh by gosh, by golly, it turns out that holly and mistletoe can actually kill you. The pretty red berries of the holly plant are extremely poisonous, as are mistletoe's toxic berries, leaves, and stems. Keep these plants—as well as Jerusalem cherries and bittersweet—well out of reach of children, as well as your pets.

READ: Craziest Homeowner Holiday Disaster Stories

Getty Images/Thatcher Keats

Remember when Little Harry Bailey's sled veered off course and into an ice hole in It's a Wonderful Life? This was not an isolated incident. Turns out more than 33,000 of us are injured while sledding or tobogganing each year, and children ages 5 to 9 are most at risk. Be sure to sled in spacious areas with gently sloping hills and that there's enough room at the end of the ride to stop safely. Also, check for obstructions along your sledding path, such as fences, trees, or rocks, as well as frozen-over ponds and streams.

Photo: iStockPhoto.com/ATTACK-RABBIT
Decorating Wipeouts

In a recent survey by the Home Safety Council, 82 percent of homeowners admitted climbing on chairs, counters, and shelves—instead of proper stepladders—when decorating for the holidays. Even when using ladders, many people tended to ignore basic safety precautions, such as placing ladders on level ground. Whether you're planting your star atop the Christmas tree or stringing holiday lights outside, keep in mind that about half a million people are injured each year in ladder-related accidents, so be careful.

READ: 24 Easy Upgrades to Create a Festive Holiday Home

Photo: iStockPhoto.com/Spauln
The Merry Christmas Coronary

According to an alarming 2004 study, more heart-related deaths occur on Christmas Day than on any other day of the year among people who are not already in the hospital. The second-highest death-toll day is December 26, and the third highest is New Year's Day. Heart researchers speculate that the rise in what they dub "Merry Christmas Coronaries" might be due to over-rich and salty diets, holiday-related stress, and a desire to delay treating symptoms until after the holidays.