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At Christmas, no-one can hear you scream.
Eamonn McCann, 06 Dec 2005
If you feel sickly over Xmas, issue instructions immediately that there is to be no mumbo-jumbo later on.
You wouldn’t want to breathe your last with ‘See Amid The Winter’s Snow’ howling in your ears and the thought of susurrating prayers wafting your ashes on their way, now would you?.
Point is, there’s more chance you’ll die on Xmas than on any other day of the year.
The shock news comes from the biggest survey ever undertaken into the distribution of deaths from natural causes.
Researchers in (well, naturally) California have examined records of 53 million deceased US citizens over a 26 years to 2001, and discovered that deaths peak in the holiday period. One reason, they suggest, is people’s reluctance to disrupt the festivities by calling for a doctor or demanding to be taken to hospital.
There are more deaths from heart failure on December 25th than on any other day of the year. Next comes December 26th. And then New Year’s Day.
The “holiday effect” accounts for a 4.65 % increase in cardiac deaths, 4.99 % in non-cardiac.
The report, published in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association, excludes suicides, homicides and accidents.
“We found that there is a general tendency for cardiac and non-cardiac deaths to peak during the winter, but above and beyond this, there are additional increases at Christmas and New Year,” says Dr. David P. Phillips, at the University of California at San Diego.
“These twin mortality spikes are particularly striking if you look at a subset of heart deaths where people are dead on arrival, die in the emergency department or die as outpatients.”
The Xmas threat seems to be growing. In the most recent three years studied, 1998 to 2001, holiday mortality was 4.4% above what was expected. In the earliest three years, 1973-1976, mortality had been a mere 0.95 % above expected.
During the 26-year period, Xmas and New Year had accounted for 42,039 extra deaths.
In an editorial in Circulation Dr. Robert A. Kloner, professor of cardiovascular medicine at the University of Southern California, says that the research is now “definitive.”
People should seek professional help immediately if they have cardiac symptoms over Xmas, Kloner advises. And coronary care units and emergency wards should be adequately staffed over the holiday period.
Be on continuous alert for the warning signs, people.
And Happy Xmas.
I thought of Bernard McGeehan when reading the first of those annual feature pieces on the Christmas truce on the Western Front.
McGeehan was shot at dawn for desertion at Poperinghe in November 1916. He’d walked out of the trenches away from the war.
“I didn’t know what I was doing,” he pleaded. “I have been here 18 months and have had no leave.”
He was tied to a stake as men he had served with were lined up to kill him. “Shoot straight, Brian,” were his reputed last words to one of his imminent executioners, who’d offered deliberately to miss. Bernard, from Moat Street in Derry, was one of 306 soldiers of the British Army, 26 of them Irish, executed during World War One for cowardice, desertion or disobedience.
There’d been a big element of disobedience in the Xmas truce two years earlier. The story has become a seasonal standard. German and British soldiers stumbling out from their trenches across No Man’s Land to exchange greetings, play football on a pitch pock-marked by shell-fire, before going back to mud and killing. An interlude of warmth in a cold stretch of hatred. A perfect Xmas parable.
But it wasn’t about Xmas. It was the prelude to the killing of Bernard McGeehan.
Andy Todd, a Scottish telegraphist with the Royal Engineers, wrote home in November 1914, just weeks into the “positional” war: “Perhaps it will surprise you to learn that the soldiers in both lines of trenches have become very pally," he wrote. "Every morning at breakfast time one of the soldiers sticks a board in the air…All firing ceases, and men from either side draw their water and rations. All through the breakfast hour, silence reigns supreme. But whenever the board comes down, the first unlucky devil who shows even so much as a hand gets a bullet through it.”
Singing between the trenches had become commonplace by December. The fact that both sides knew some of the same seasonal songs---'Silent Night/Stille Nacht', 'Adeste Fideles', 'Oh Tanenbaum' – made for joint choral renditions.
In the lead-up to Xmas, there was fraternisation along many miles of the front line. A Major Buchanan-Dunlop wrote to his wife in wonderment about German soldiers visiting British trenches. “Owing to the friendly relations between the two parties, they couldn’t very well take them prisoner when two of their officers and 70 soldiers came into our trenches and have refused to leave. They insist on staying.”
On Xmas Day, men on both sides took advantage of the occasion to meet one another en masse. “We were in front of their wire entanglements, surrounded by Germans," recalled Buchanan-Dunlop. "What a sight! Little groups of Germans and British extending almost the length of the front. Out of the darkness we could hear laughter, and see lighted matches. A German lighting a Scotsman’s cigarette! We were laughing and chatting to men whom, only a few hours before, we were trying to kill.”
At one location at least, near Lille, at noon on Xmas Day, all stood in silence in remembrance of both British and German dead.
Thus, the 'truce' was underway before Xmas. And it didn’t end as soon as Xmas was over. The high commands found it difficult to force a resumption of fighting. A few days after Xmas, north of Kemmel, officers of the British Third Division opened up machine-gun fire on Germans returning in friendly array to the British trenches. On December 30th, German soldiers relayed a message: “Dear Camarads, I beg to inform you that it is forbidden us to go out to you, but we will remain your comrades. If we will be forced to fire, we will fire too high. Offering you some cigars, We remain, Yours truly…”
It wasn’t an outburst of Xmas sentiment. It was a rebellion for peace. The purpose of the killing of Bernard McGeehan and 305 others was to keep the rebellion down.
Here’s Kyle from South Park, eventually consoled by an unknown Celebrity Guest:
It’s hard to be a Jew at Xmas.
My friends won’t let me join in any games.
And I can’t sing Xmas songs
Or decorate a Xmas tree
Or leave water out for Rudolph
‘Cause there’s something wrong with me.
My people don’t believe in Jesus Christ’s divinity.
I’m a Jew,
A lonely Jew
Hanukkah is nice but why is it
That Santa passes over my house every year?
And instead of eating ham I have to eat kosher latkes
Instead of Silent Night I’m singing
Hoo Hact Toh Gaveesh
And what the fuck is up with lighting all these
Fucking candles, please?
I’m a Jew,
A lonely Jew
I can’t be merry
‘Cause I’m Hebrew
Celebrity Guest: Hey little boy I couldn’t help but hear
You're feeling left out of Xmas cheer
And I’ve come to say that you shouldn’t be sad
This is the one month you should be glad
‘Cause its nice to be a Jew at Xmas.
You don’t have to deal with the season at all.
You don’t have to be on your best behaviour or give to charity.
You don’t have to have to go to grandma’s house with your alcoholic family.
Kyle: And I don’t have to sit on some fake Santa’s lap
And have him breathe his stinky breath on me.
Celebrity Guest: That’s right, you’re a Jew!
Kyle: A Jew!
Together: Its a good time to be Hebrew,