Watching Holiday Films Could Help Prevent Injury, According to USU Study

A clearly injured person smiles and holds a gingerbread man amongst many holiday decorations

By Sharon Holland

Watching holiday films with your family members could be the best way to prevent injuries during the festive season, according to a study released Dec. 13 in Emergency Medicine News by Uniformed Services University (USU) researchers.

The study, “Jingle All the Way to the Emergency Department:  A Carol of Holiday Injuries Inspired by Christmas Films,” says that accidental injuries are a frequent occurrence during the season of celebration between November 1-January 31. Adults, especially those over 40 years of age, comprise about 68% of injuries sustained throughout the ho-ho-holiday period, with more than 55% of injuries overall taking place inside the home. Women accounted for 55% of those injured. 

These injuries often mirror those sustained by characters in some of our favorite holiday classics. Study authors Army Maj. (Dr.) Patrick Reeves, Army 2nd Lt. Brandon Rozanski, Navy Lt. (Dr.) Eric Pasman, Air Force Col. (Dr.) Cade Nylund, and Dr. Philip Rogers suggest that clinicians can use this information to inform patients of the elevated risks of injury during the three-month period every year.   

Two children watch a holiday film
USU researchers say that watching holiday films offers an opportunity to discuss injury prevention with your family. Many holiday films feature injuries that
mirror those sustained by citizens between Nov. 1-Jan. 31.  (Photo credit: Sarah Marshall, USU)

The research team reviewed 11 Christmas movies – National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, Home Alone, Elf, Jingle All the Way, Deck the Hall, The Santa Clause, Daddy’s Home 2, A Christmas Story, Dr. Seuss: How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and Die Hard – to catalog injury patterns, including objects (e.g. pellet gun) and a diagnosis (e.g. ocular injury) from which they developed 80 injury scenarios. Then, using data from 2017-2021 from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, they identified patients who went to the emergency room with injuries similar to those in the Christmas films.

Among the most common injuries found in the holiday flicks were:

  • Soft tissue injury
  • Fracture
  • Sprain
  • Poisoning
  • Burn
  • Rash
  • Amputation
  • Foreign body ingestion
  • Frostbite

Ingestion of Christmas ornaments, burns from Christmas tree fires, and falls over decorations are most commonly depicted. Home Alone and Christmas Vacation contained the highest number of “realistic” injuries, and both had the highest rates of escalation of care, according to the team.

Not surprisingly, they found that no one had injuries in common with John McClane or others in the movie Die Hard. After all, walking on broken glass in your bare feet after being shot at by German terrorists wielding automatic weapons probably doesn’t happen in many homes throughout the holidays.  

Childhood trauma and mental anguish experienced by Jim Carrey’s Grinch character were the impetus for the acts that led to many of the injuries sustained in Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas. In real life, the researchers found that in 54 cases, injuries identified in the ER such as ingestion of foreign objects, cuts, and falls mirrored those in the good-triumphs-over-evil holiday classic. 

Revelers, possibly including Todd, Margo, and Uncle Louis, landed in the ER with 46,728 injuries similar to those in Christmas Vacation with roughly 16% leading to hospitalization or observation. Additionally, nearly 30,000 injuries were identified, such as lacerations, bruises, fractured or broken bones, herniated disks, and internal bleeding, bites or other wounds, as being similar to those experienced by Harry and Marv, the Wet Bandits of Home Alone. While it’s not certain that anyone in the database showed up at the ER because they were hit in the face with a hot iron, they may have sustained burns and head injuries, and more than 25% resulted in transfer to a higher level of care. 

Buddy Hobbs and other characters in the movie, Elf, experienced cuts, broken or bruised ribs, neck pain, animal bites and other injuries. Study authors found that more than 8,000 similar injuries were sustained by ER patients during the three-month window. One and a half percent of those (123) required hospitalization, either for advanced treatment or observation. 

In Jingle All the Way, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character sustained a bite, broken fingers and a head injury/concussion. Those and 2,965 others accounted for the types of injuries people sought urgent medical attention for, according to the study. Roughly 10% of those were referred to a higher level of treatment. More than 18% of the injuries treated in the ER that were similar to those in the movie, Deck the Halls, were serious enough to require hospitalization or further observation. Electric shock, burns, falls and hypothermia were identified in the film that starred Danny DeVito and Matthew Broderick. 

Jingle All the Way to the Emergency Department:  A Carol of Holiday Injuries Inspired by Christmas Films,
Poster courtesy of USU study authors Army Maj. (Dr.) Patrick Reeves, Army 2nd Lt. Brandon Rozanski, Navy Lt. (Dr.) Eric Pasman,
Air Force Col. (Dr.) Cade Nylund, and Dr. Philip Rogers.

Injuries due to falls were among the types of various injuries characterized within The Santa Clause that were sustained by 702 people reported in the study. The wounds were serious enough in 18% of them to require a higher level of treatment or hospitalization. Electric shock, cuts, bruises and other injuries were suffered by the characters of Daddy’s Home 2 and counted among 326 injuries presented in the ER. Although no one actually shot their eye out or had to remove their tongue from a frozen street light pole, 202 people did show up at the ER because of eye injuries, falls, broken limbs, and head and other injuries found in A Christmas Story. Nearly 13% of those were referred for further medical care. 

The authors suggest that primary care providers recommend that age-appropriate patients watch these movies prior to each holiday season. In addition to a family movie night opportunity, it offers the potential for a pre-injury intervention to update patients on the risks of the holiday season, they say. 

“Often we assume that safety is intuitive, or common sense, but safety and injury prevention needs to be taught like anything else,” says Nylund. 

“We recommend that if families participate in a Christmas movie-watching tradition, that they take the time to enjoy the film and to discuss that the comedy depicted can present real life risks for injury,” said Reeves, the study’s lead author. “We must be careful to celebrate the holidays in a way that simultaneously honors tradition and optimizes safety.”

So, get your hot cocoa, snuggle up on the sofa with your family, and put on your favorite holiday classic. It’s just what the doctor ordered.