SID SALTER: It's now proven: Christmas is 'deadliest' time of year

By Sid Salter

My family has long tired of hearing me talk about “the Christmas die.” But now there’s finally empirical evidence to back up what I’ve long known anecdotally to be true – that an inordinate number of people die in the weeks before and after Christmas.
After more than 30 years of newspapering in Mississippi, I can tell you that based on the flow of obituaries, more people die during the run up to the Christmas holidays. Again, it’s just been an observation and I rationalized that people who are old or sick simply set a goal of trying to live until Christmas.
Let’s be careful
Scientists, it would seem, agree. An analysis of mortality rates during different times of year found that people are more likely to die during the holidays and researchers cannot explain the annual spike.
A new study conducted by three University of California at San Diego sociologists – David Phillips, Gwendolyn Barker and Kimberly Brewer – reported in an article in the journal Social Science amp& Medicine that mortality in general rises during the Christmas season.
Specifically, the sociologists analyzed all U.S. death certificates over the 25-year period between 1979 and 2004 and identified an excess of 42,325 natural deaths – that is, above and beyond the normal seasonal winter increase – in the two weeks starting with Christmas.
One of the key findings of the study was that more people die in hospital emergency rooms, or arrive dead on arrival, on Christmas and New Year’s Day than on any other days of the year.
Phillips told Canada’s National Post that the findings aren’t “trivial.”
“We looked at all cause categories and, for nearly every one, we found an excess of deaths – particularly for people who are dying rapidly, like dead-on-arrival or dying in the emergency department,” said Phillips.
Phillips said the team’s analysis of some 57.5-million death certificates generally shows the chance of dying during this holiday period increases “somewhere between 3 percent and 9 percent, depending on the demographic group you’re looking at, and somewhere between 1 percent and 10 percent, depending on what cause of death you’re looking at.”
Theory shot down
So, what about my theory that the sick and the elderly just rely on their grit and hold on to see one more Christmas?
BEEP!!! Wrong answer.
Asked about the possibility of sick people postponing death in order to reach holiday milestones, Phillips shot that theory down: “If that were the case, you’d expect not only a peak on the holiday but a compensatory drop in deaths before the holiday. No such drop is evident.”
While we don’t know why, we do apparently know that more people die during the Christmas and New Year’s holidays. It’s not just a newspaper legend; it’s a medical fact.
I hope the Lord will spare me the rest of this holiday season. I hope He spares you, too. I need to attend the Gator Bowl, ring my cowbell and avoid a trip to the emergency room.
Sid Salter is Persective editor at The Clarion-Ledger. Contact him at (601) 961-7084 or e-mail ssalter@clarionledger.com.