Christmas is a Time of Fear, and a Time to Act – Or is it?

Posted on:December 15, 2021
Last Updated: January 3, 2022
Time to read: 2 minutes

Christmas is a time of fear and a time to act. At least, according to the headlines.

A sense of urgency and panic grips one during the holiday season, even in the best of years.

Each day brings a new set of plans and fears – there are the obligations in the wonderful reunions of families long separated by the tyranny of the pandemic.

But then there is the news, relentless news, of another potential concern each day. Case numbers? New Variants? The beauty but admitted pomposity of the Greek alphabet?

Then there are the more subtle but pervasive issues. How long does it take to leave the house again? What is “mixed peel”? And how can I lose all these quarantine kilos before people see me again.

This urgency is widespread and latent in our dealings with each other and ourselves. But I have good news, and it comes in the Christmas gift of the British Medical Journal.

In December 2020, Ford and colleagues noted the number of papers that were published with the claim “The time to act is now” (actually, they noted this about ten years before, but only got around to writing the article that year.) [Ford et al., 2020]

Reviewing 512 articles, they studied the claim. This “pseudo-systematic review” identified, categorically and with no potential risk of statistical insignificance (unless someone else researches this, which is, let’s be honest, unlikely) that there was no relationship between the claim and “burden, severity, or speciality”.

Of particular importance is that they specifically studied papers related to Christmas and determined “Claims that the time to act was Christmas were almost entirely without basis.” So there.

Why the urgency in “Time to Act”? The authors seemed to fall short of the defamatory concept that people could overstate their case to guarantee publication. But there are more universal findings from this study, as the following quote I’m too lazy to paraphrase describes:

The claim that the time is now! is rarely found in corrections, for example when authors have had second thoughts about when to act. It is also never found in obituaries. No link is seen between whether the topic in question really does deserve action today, as opposed to yesterday or tomorrow.

Christmas time is a time of reflection. Many expectations of the season are difficult to achieve in the face of (sorry) unprecedented pressures.

But, as Michael Ende once wrote,

Time is Life, and life resides in the human heart.
This Christmas, make time for that which is really important, and nothing else.
Or not.

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