A Brief History
On December 25, 1977, English acting legend Charlie Chaplin died of a stroke at the age of 88. His 75 year career was most notable for his silent movie contributions, although he suffered from criticism for his increasingly strident political leanings in later years. He was also criticized for his penchant for the ladies, especially younger women, some of whom he married, with his 4th and final wife being only 18 years old to his 54 years when they married in 1943. Chaplin died on Christmas Day in 1977, a day that popular culture has recognized as a particularly deadly day by anecdotal standards. Looking into this supposed correlation with death and the holidays, we found there is truth to the popular notion of deadly Christmas.
The professional journal Social Science and Medicine had studied deaths in the United States from 1979 to 2004, and found that the winter holidays were a particularly deadly time for Americans, notably Christmas and New Year’s Day. Sociologists Phillips, Barker and Brewer found that the 2 week period starting with Christmas showed a statistically significant spike in deaths, well over 42,000 more than the normal 2 week average in the rest of the year in the US. People in hospitals were particularly likely to die right on Christmas. Researchers found that emergency rooms reported more people dying in the ER or dead on arrival on Christmas, Boxing Day (Canadian holiday the on December 26) and New Year’s Day than any other days of the year.
Variables in settings, demographics, and regional differences allow for a range of a 3% to 9% greater likelihood of dying during the holiday period. The actual cause for this phenomenon is not completely understood, though speculation about holiday stress is often cited, as is the possibility that dying people hang on as long as possible in order to make it to the holidays one last time. Some have speculated that increased alcohol consumption may contribute to the spike in deaths.
(On a personal note, on December 25, 2012, the author was in the hospital with severe pneumonia, after only recently being released from a nursing home following open heart surgery for a burst aorta, when the hospital accidentally called my family to report I had “coded” (euphemism for dying). My wife, who was on her way to see that morning, floored the accelerator and raced to my room to find me eating breakfast quite comfortably. The hospital had called the wrong family! Of course, that meant someone else’s loved one had actually died on that Christmas day.)
Question for students (and subscribers): Have you had one or more loved ones or acquaintances die on Christmas or New Year’s? Or during the holiday season? Has this tragic trend been apparent to you prior to reading this article? Feel free to share your holiday stories in the comments section below this article. Perhaps people will find comfort in knowing others have had sad Christmases as well.
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For further information, please see…
Harris, Misty. “Christmas the deadliest day of the year: study.” National Post. http://nationalpost.com/news/christmas-the-deadliest-day-of-the-year-study (accessed 24 December 2017).
Innes, Emma. “Why this is the most DANGEROUS time of the year: Death rates peak on Christmas Day, Boxing Day and at New Year.” Daily Mail. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2528881/Why-DANGEROUS-time-year-Death-rates-peak-Christmas-Day-Boxing-Day-New-Year.html (accessed 24 December 2017).
Park, Alice. “Why Heart Attacks Spike at Christmas.” Time. http://time.com/4610633/why-more-people-die-of-heart-disease-around-christmas/ (accessed 24 December 2017).