by Maggie Gallagher

Christmas is the deadliest day of the year.

After carefully analyzing all deaths between 1979 and 2004, David Phillips and his colleagues at the University of California, San Diego discovered you are 6 percent more likely to die on the day Christ was born than on any typical day of the year. And they don't know why.

They considered stress, people postponing their deaths, emergency room overcrowding, winter travel, cold weather and substance abuse -- "none of which offered convincing evidence of driving the trend," according to the National Post.

"The next step is for other people to follow up and figure out the mechanisms that produce this," Phillips said. "For now, the message is to pay attention to your health, and to your health resources."

It gets worse. Christmas kills, but New Year's Day kills babies.

Crib deaths claim 33 percent more young lives on New Year's Day than expected based on crib deaths the day before and the day after, according to a separate study in the journal Addiction authored by Phillips and others. But at least they know why: alcohol.

Phillips' group concludes: "These comparison measures indicate that the largest spikes in alcohol consumption and in SIDS ... occur on New Year; alcohol consumption and SIDS increase significantly on weekends; and children of alcohol-consuming mothers are much more likely to die from SIDS than are children of non-alcohol-consuming mothers."

At Mass last week, the priest reminded me that Advent is actually supposed to be a penitential season -- a time of repentance, prayer and sacrifice to prepare for the coming of the baby Jesus.

I'm not that good at repentance, prayer or sacrifice, especially with all those distracting sparkly lights, tinsel and reindeer odes around making me feel cheery.

So I like to think the Christmas greeting I got from a disgruntled reader who disagrees with my views on gay marriage was somehow a gentle tap on the shoulder from God.

Or maybe not.

Under the heading "Merry Christmas!" I opened an e-mail that read:

"Although for you I'm guessing it's tough to reconcile the celebration of the Savior's birth when your particular professional life has been so focused on the exact opposite of Christ's teachings, whatever your suspect personal motivation may be. I mean, let's face it -- Christ didn't invent money, so if that's what prompts you to peddle your specific brand of crazy, you're on your own with that one. If you think in ANY convoluted way you think you're even remotely moving his teachings forward -- come on, sister. Really? That Yale degree good for absolutely nothing? You can't really be THAT stupid?

"Anyway -- Merry Christmas! Grab on to whatever shred you can to get you through the next couple of years. You'll need it. Not to mention the legacy you'll leave behind. You'll be the 'go to' example of everything rotten right now on this particular front -- and your child gets to inherit that. Christ would be so proud."

Well, and Merry Christmas to you too!

I wrote him back:

"I'm sorry that you think so. I hope you have a blessed and happy Christmas!

"We will both meet God in the end and no doubt have a surprising number of things to answer for: things we know about, and things we don't really expect.

"May He have mercy on us both."

I can't wait for Advent to end and Christmas to begin.

(Maggie Gallagher is the founder of the National Organization for Marriage and has been a syndicated columnist for 14 years.)