As millions celebrate Christmas, researchers have pointed out certain health hazards like the ‘holiday heart syndrome’ or even the pine needles in the tree, that can be avoided during the festivities.
The Christmas season is associated with preventable harms from cards, tree decorations and presents, as well as overeating and overdrinking, so do the benefits of Christmas outweigh the harms?
In the Christmas issue of The British Medical Journal (BMJ), Robin Ferner and Jeffrey Aronson found some cautionary tales from the archives.
They found 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 posting Christmas cards through the spring-loaded flap of a letter box.
Injuries from falls while decking the house with Christmas lights are common — and a reminder not to get on ladders — they may tip when you are tipsy.
“Items swallowed unintentionally can also pose problems,” they wrote.
Excessive eating and drinking too much alcohol can not only increase waistlines, but also trigger outbreaks of gastroenteritis and salmonella infection and cause heart complaints (holiday heart syndrome).
Bulbs from Christmas lights, sharp pointed confetti stars, and Christmas tree shaped decorations, have all found their way down toddlers’ throats and have had to be removed.
Christmas trees, too, can bring pain as well as pleasure.
“Pine needles can penetrate the lungs, causing breathing difficulties, and branches can poke you in the eye, causing corneal abrasion. Burns from candles are also common,” the authors noted.
Christmas presents pose unforeseen dangers too, they added.
For example, a pet hamster spread lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus, while Haitian bongo drums carried anthrax bacilli in their goatskin hides.
In 2002, researchers analysed the cost effectiveness of Christmas and concluded that “Christmas is not cost effective.”
But cost effectiveness is not everything, they said.
“Most of our sources are anecdotal, and we did not find strong evidence of widespread adverse effects. So we will leave you to decide whether the benefits of Christmas outweigh its harms”.