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What does science say about the holidays?

Fri Dec 23 2022

As the holiday season is now upon us, let’s have a little fun and use scite’s new “Ask a Question” feature to find out what the scientific literature says about this time of year.

Let’s start with the obvious question: Santa Claus. I will leave open the question of whether or not he actually exists and focus on something properly scientific: does he have hypertension? The weight factor might suggest yes, but all of that bouncing up and down chimneys seems like some good cardio.

As it turns out, there is a 2015 paper that answers this and a whole host of other important questions: Straube and Fan’s (2015) The Occupational Health of Santa Claus. They note that Mr. Claus does indeed exhibit multiple risk factors for cardiovascular disease: “[he] displays two key cardiovascular risk factors: increased body-mass index (likely obesity), and a smoking habit at times.” Additionally, Straube and Fan point out that a sleigh that can travel by both air and ground, quickly across multiple time zones surely runs afoul of multiple workplace safety guidelines. While Claus appears to exhibit good mental health, he may be experiencing cognitive decline: “he still apparently keeps written records and checks them repeatedly (‘He’s making a list, Checking it twice’). While double checking is to be encouraged for certain safety-sensitive work tasks, the practice does beg the question of whether Santa is acting according to standard operating procedures, or whether he may instead display a tendency towards compulsive checking.”

How about the big man’s home, the North Pole? We know it’s cold, but how cold does it really get? According to Eamus, Huete, and Yu (2015), the answer is around -89 (C). No wonder he wanders south to deliver presents this time of year.

Zooming out a bit, let’s talk about the health effects of the holiday season. We know that holidays are stressful, but to whom in particular, and how? Leisch, Backer and Schänzel (2013) provide some insights. They note that for parents of young children, feeling obligated to visit extended family over the holidays can often create feelings of irritation and stress rather than relaxation, as one would hope.

Getting into the new year, how about resolutions? Are they effective ways of making changes in one’s life? According to Greiff (2019), the answer is no. However, referring to a 2006 paper by Gollwitzer and Sheeran, Mavda (2015) points out that having specific concrete goals - such as those established at the beginning of the year - specifying when a set amount of progress will be made is more likely to result in meaningful change than abstract ones.

Happy holidays from scite!