Why Do More People Die During the Holidays?

Although the holiday season is a time for celebration and getting together with loved ones, for thousands of people each year, it is also a time of great sadness. Several studies have revealed that there is a greater chance of dying on Christmas, the day after Christmas, and on New Year’s Day than any other day of the year.

David Phillips, a sociology professor at UC San Diego, has conducted several studies on the subject, including an expansive 25-year look at death certificates from 1979-2004. He found a significant spike in deaths during these three days. And this increase spanned all diseases, genders, and age groups (except children). Although, it should also be noted, that despite popular belief, the suicide rate actually goes down during the holidays.

This research then begs the question: Why? Why are these days so deadly? There are many theories (increased consumption of salt, more drinking, stress, weather, etc), but according to Phillips, most of these theories don’t stand up.

One of the popular theories is that stress and sadness brought on by the holidays is a large contributing factor; after all, there has been much proven in regards to the strong mind-body connection. However, when Phillips looked at the death rate of Alzheimer’s patients – those who might not be aware of the holidays and the stress associated with it – he found that the increase in deaths was just as present.

Another theory is that since more people die in the winter months, there must be some correlation to the cold weather. But when Phillips compared the statistics in the colder states compared to those in warmer weather, he found that cardiac mortality is actually slightly higher in the warmer states.

The answer must be then that people are consuming so much more food and alcohol that these are major contributing factors to the increased mortality rate. But once again, this theory did not hold up to Phillips’ research. He found that the death rates were still increased for those patients who were in hospitals, under strict dietary regulations.

Phillips believes that one of the reasons for this phenomena may be related to access of care. On one hand, people may avoid going to the doctor or hospital because they are away from home or want to put it off so they can spend more time with their family. On the other hand, the staffing of hospitals during the holidays may also be at fault. Phillips took notice of this when he saw an even higher increase in deaths from Level 1 trauma centers.

“For those deaths, the spike was even sharper,” Phillips stated. “Those are the cases where seconds make a difference and you may see a real difference between the response of a junior and senior member of staff.”

Another possible reason could be that our loved ones want to hang on for one last Christmas. They may subconsciously see it as an end goal. But whatever the reason may be, it’s an unfortunate statistic that sadly affects too many households during this time. May it also serve, however, as a reminder to take care of yourselves and your loved ones, and to appreciate those close to you when you get together this holiday season.

At the Encinitas Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, we take pride in treating each and every patient with the same care and respect we do our own family. For more information, please don’t hesitate to contact us at or call us at (760) 753-6423.