interior christmas. magic glowing tree, fireplace, gifts in dark

Catastrophic fires ruin the holidays for hundreds of American families every year, but fire can be prevented by taking a few safety precautions. (Adobe Stock photo)

Make a plan to prevent fires this holiday 

For many families, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are two of the happiest, most-anticipated days of the year… but they are also two of the most likely days for home fires to occur, according to data from the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). 

About 770 fires happen in U.S. homes during the average holiday season, and an additional 160 specifically have a Christmas tree as their source, NFPA statistics show. Candles and holiday lights are other common fire sources, along with cooking-related causes.

That’s why it’s so important to take a few simple safety precautions as you prepare to enjoy this year’s holiday celebrations. Following are key recommendations from the NFPA and the U.S. Fire Administration:

Christmas trees: Place both real and artificial trees well away from heat sources, and inspect the lights you’ll be using for frayed wires or other defects. Natural trees should be cut at a 45-degree angle at the base and placed in water immediately; tree stands should be filled with water every day, and the tree should be discarded promptly when it becomes dry (a dried-out tree can burn to the point of a disastrous “flashover” in less than 30 seconds). Only use non-flammable ornaments and unplug the tree lights whenever you’re away from home.

Candles: Candle fires are four times more likely in December than any other month, but that risk can be minimized by keeping lit candles three feet away from anything flammable. Ensure that candles are placed on sturdy bases and never leave them burning unattended. Better yet, new types of flameless candles look almost like the real thing, with no fire risks attached.  

Outdoor lights: When hanging lights outside, be careful not to use lights rated for indoor use, and replace any light strings with worn or broken cords or loose bulb connections. Read manufacturers’ instructions regarding the number of light strands to connect in one circuit and don’t overload. Use UL-rated clips or hangers rather than nails or staples; these can damage the wiring and increase the risk of a fire. 

Cooking: While Thanksgiving is the peak day for home cooking fires, it’s followed closely by Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. To prevent fires in the kitchen, don’t leave food cooking unattended, and avoid placing holiday decorations close to a stove or other cooking equipment – another common cause of fires. 

Election stress harms voters’ health, study finds 

Now that the recent midterm elections are over, many Americans are no doubt feeling relieved to put the divisive atmosphere surrounding them – not to mention the back-to-back political attack ads – aside for the moment. 

That collective relief is more than just a feeling, according to a newly published study. Major political events can have dramatic impacts on adults’ physical and psychological health…disrupting sleep, harming emotional well-being, and increasing alcohol consumption. 

As part of a larger study exploring the sleep and psychological effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) surveyed a group of American and international participants on a daily basis just before and after the Nov. 3, 2020 U.S. elections. Each person provided details about their sleep quality, sleep duration, alcohol use, and how stressed they were feeling.

Their responses showed that Americans were sleeping less, feeling much more stressed, experiencing a more negative and depressed mood in general, and drinking more alcohol in the days surrounding the election. These trends were far less pronounced among the international participants. 

“This is the first study to find that there is a relationship between the previously reported changes in Election Day public mood and sleep the night of the election,” said corresponding author Tony Cunningham, Ph.D., director of the Center for Sleep and Cognition at BIDMC. “It is unlikely that these findings will come as shock to many given the political turbulence of the last several years.” 

“However, it is not just that elections may influence sleep, but evidence suggests that sleep may influence civic engagement and participation in elections as well…It will be important for future research to determine how public mood and stress effects on sleep leading up to an election may effect or even alter its outcome,” Cunningham added.

The findings were published in the National Sleep Foundation’s journal Sleep Health.

On the calendar

BJC offers a virtual Bariatric Surgery information session on Mondays, Dec. 5 and Dec. 19, from 5:30-6:30 p.m., live via Zoom. Join a Washington University bariatric physician to learn about several surgical treatment options for weight loss available at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Barnes-Jewish West County Hospital. There is no cost to participate. To register for a session or learn more, call (314) 542-9378 or visit

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St. Luke’s Hospital offers a virtual information session, Transform Your Life, Restore Your Health with MyNewSelf Bariatrics, on Tuesday, Dec. 6 from 6-6:30 p.m. Tired of struggling with obesity-related health conditions like high blood pressure, sleep apnea or diabetes? Join a St. Luke’s bariatric surgeon for this free informational seminar to learn more about options to help you achieve and maintain a healthy weight. Register to attend at; for more information, call (314) 966-9639. 

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BJC St. Louis Children’s Hospital sponsors a Babysitting 101 virtual class on Wednesday, Dec. 7 from 6-8:30 p.m. This interactive class, offered virtually through Teams Meeting, is a great introduction to the basics of babysitting and is recommended for ages 10 and above. The cost is $25 per child. Register online at

Lisa Russell covers health and aging for both West Newsmagazine and Mid Rivers Newsmagazine. She is a West St. Louis County native [Parkway South, class of 1979] and graduate of Mizzou’s journalism school. She and her husband have three grown children.  

Lisa Russell covers health and aging for both West Newsmagazine and Mid Rivers Newsmagazine. She is a West St. Louis County native [Parkway South, class of 1979] and graduate of Mizzou’s journalism school. She and her husband have three grown children.

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