Do the advantages of Christmas outweigh its harms?

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The holiday season is fraught with avoidable damage from cards, tree decorations, and gifts, as well as overeating and over-drinking. So do the benefits of Christmas outweigh the harm?

In the Christmas edition of The BMJ, Robin Ferner and Jeffrey Aronson unearth some cautionary stories from the archives.

They find that Christmas cards can be a potential source of harm. In 1876, a young man developed arsenic poisoning after painting festive cards with the highly toxic Scheele’s Green paint. More recently, a woman amputated her fingertip while sticking Christmas cards through the spring-loaded flap of a mailbox.

Injuries from falling while decorating the home with Christmas lights are common – and a reminder not to climb ladders – they can tip over if you’re tipsy.

Objects accidentally swallowed can also cause problems, they write. Christmas light bulbs, pointed confetti stars and Christmas tree-shaped decorations have found their way into toddlers’ throats and had to be removed.

Christmas trees can also bring both pain and pleasure. Pine needles can penetrate your lungs and cause breathing difficulties, and branches can stab your eye and cause corneal abrasion. Burns from candles are also common (at least in Bern, Switzerland, where it is common to light candles on Christmas trees).

Christmas presents also pose unforeseen dangers, such as a hamster spreading the lymphatic choriomeningitis virus while Haitian bongo drums carried anthrax bacilli in their goatskin skins.

Overeating and drinking too much alcohol can not only enlarge the waistline, but also trigger outbreaks of gastroenteritis and salmonella infections and cause heart problems (“vacation heart syndrome”).

After all, some people use the Christmas holidays to enjoy themselves outdoors, at least in warmer areas. In Australia, Christmas brings an increase in catastrophic injuries from jet skiing.

So is it worth it, you ask the authors?

In 2002, researchers analyzed the cost-effectiveness of Christmas and concluded that “Christmas is not cost-effective”.

But cost efficiency is not everything, they say. “Most of our sources are anecdotal and we haven’t found strong evidence of widespread adverse effects. So we leave it to you to decide whether the benefits of Christmas outweigh the harm.”

Finally they say: “Stay safe, stay calm, go on and enjoy a Merry Christmas!”

“Accessible Christmas”, an application that allows blind people to enjoy Christmas lights

More information:
Feature: Harms and the Christmas Factor, BMJ (2020). DOI: 10.1136 / bmj.m4067 Provided by the British Medical Journal

Quote: Do the advantages of Christmas outweigh the disadvantages? (2020, December 16) Retrieved December 17, 2020 from https://medicalxpress.com/news/2020-12-benefits-christmas-outweigh.html

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