3 December 2020

Deck the halls! - 37 festive facts about Christmas materials

At Materials World, we’re all about the facts. And we love the festive holidays. Combining the two, we've collated some bitesize Christmas-themed nuggets.

Christmas gifts and baubles
© Mel Poole/Unsplash

The Hallmark moment

  1. In the 15th century, master wood engravers inscribed prints with the same sentiment as the modern Christmas and New Year’s cards.
  2. The first Christmas card was said to be designed in England in 1843 by John Callcott Horsley for the founding director of the Victoria & Albert Museum – Henry Cole. One thousand hand-coloured copies were placed on sale in London.
  3. In the 1880s, Boston lithographer Louis Prang is credited with creating the first commercial Christmas cards in the USA, producing more than five million a year using the chromolithography process.
  4. A desire for privacy and a decline in postcard sales heralded a new era for the greeting card when Hallmark started packaging its Christmas cards in custom-sized envelopes. Thereafter, the company began printing its own greeting cards in 1915.
  5. Last year, the UK card industry hit sales of about £1.7bln, according to the Greeting Card Association. It is estimated that the British send almost a billion Christmas cards a year, more per person than any other country

    Rockin’ around the Christmas tree
  6. Around seven million trees are bought each year in the UK, estimates the British Christmas Tree Growers Association (BCTGA). The vast majority of real spruces – around 80% – are the Nordmann Fir.
  7. Most of the UK’s Christmas trees are home-grown, with around £3mln worth imported into the UK in 2017, according to government figures. However, recent statistics suggest that almost half of all trees sold are fake.

    It’s a wrap
  8. The first trace of wrapping paper dates back to 2nd BC in ancient China – gifts of money were distributed to government officials in envelopes called ‘chih poh’ made of hemp, bamboo fibres and rice straws.
  9. Japan’s traditional reusable wrapping fabric – the ‘Furoshiki’ – dates back to the Edo period (1603-1868), while Koreans started using ‘bojagi’ – a traditional wrapping cloth made of silk – between 57 BC and 668 AD.
  10. In the West, wrapping gifts caught on in the mid-1800s with a boost from improved paper printing methods.
  11. Consumers in the UK use 227,000 miles of wrapping paper at Christmas each year, stuck together by a whopping 40mln rolls of sticky tape.
  12. A 1992 psychological study tested whether gift wrapping influences the recipient’s response to the item inside. Nicely wrapped presents were indeed favoured over unwrapped or ‘non-traditionally’ wrapped gifts.

    Bright lights on winter nights
  13. In 1882, Edward Hibberd Johnson added new sparkle to Christmas trees, replacing wax candles with hand-wired electrical lights at his home in New York, with the added bonus of reducing the risk of fire.
  14. In 1903, General Electric (GE) sought to bring the Yuletide lights to the mass market with pre-assembled kits.
  15. Shijiao in southern China recycles old Christmas lights by turning them into slippers using a scrap metal processor.
  16. Last year, Oxford Street in London, UK, changed its display, which was made up of 27 LED light curtains, amounting to 220,000 individual lights.
  17. This year, the lights at Oxford Street will be used to highlight the heroes of the COVID-19 pandemic – showcasing their names as part of the 'To London with love' poem that features in the light display.

    On the baubles
  18. Glass ornament beads that were draped over trees originated from a small town called Lauscha in Thuringia, West Germany, in the 1590s. The town specialised in handcrafted blown glass.
  19. In 1847, Hans Greiner began producing hand-blown, round, figural glass ornaments with new proves using wooden moulds. The insides were coated with a silver substance – usually mercury or lead – deadly to children and workers involved in the silvering process.
  20. Baubles today tend to be made of plastic, as they are cheaper to manufacture, although glass varieties are still commonly available.
  21. Back in 2015, Members of the UK's Sheffield University Maths Society (SUMS) created a festive formula to ensure just the right ratio of lights, tinsel and baubles are used to give your Christmas tree the perfect look. Using their 'treegonometry' calculations, they say a 152cm (5ft) Christmas tree would need 31 baubles, around 776cms of tinsel and 478cms of lights with a 15cm star or angel to top it off. You can calculate the ratios for your tree on the university website.

    Cracking invention
  22. The Christmas cracker was the invention of London confectioner Tom Smith around 1845-1850. He was inspired by the French 'bon bon' sweets (almonds wrapped in tissue paper) on a visit to Paris in 1840.
  23. The idea for the well-recognised ‘pop’ from the cracker was sparked by the crackling sound of a log fire.
  24. Smith patented the first cracker in 1847 and created the sound using two narrow strips of paper layered together, with silver fulminate painted on one side and an abrasive surface on the other – when pulled, friction created a small explosion.
  25. Then came the elaborate hats, decorative paper and novelty gifts. The success of the cracker allowed Smith's business to grow and move to larger premises in Finsbury Square, London, employing 2,000 people by the 1890s.
  26. In 2017, it was estimated by a British Airways study that Brits will pull 154 million crackers – that’s 154 million cracking knock-knock jokes told!

    ‘Tis the season for tinsel
  27. It was thought to be tradition in Germany in the 1600s to hang thin strips of silver on a Christmas tree to reflect candlelight. But because silver tarnishes and is expensive, cheaper alternatives began to be explored in the early 20th century.
  28. Copper, tin and aluminium all have a role in tinsel’s history but couldn’t quite make their mark. The demand for copper during the First World War diverted supply away from Christmas decorations.
  29. Lead alloys also made their way into tinsel, until the risk of lead poisoning became apparent.
  30. Today, PVC is a very common tinsel component. And it's coated with a thin layer of metal, such as aluminium, to give it shine.
  31. Festive Productions in Cwmbran, South Wales, is said to be the largest tinsel manufacturer in the UK, producing up to 14mln metres a year at peak times.

    I’m dreaming of a green Christmas
  32. The UK’s Waste and Resources Action programme reminds consumers to remove embellishments such as ribbons, glitter or batteries so that Christmas cards and their envelopes can be recycled via kerbside collections.
  33. The UK's Greeting Card Association notes that ‘many major retailers are now moving over to “naked” unwrapped cards after successful trials which have shown minimal damage or returns’.
  34. Organisation Less Waste advises you to test your wrapping paper’s recyclability by scrunching a piece up in your hand. If it stays crumpled when you release pressure, it can be recycled, if it starts to spring back, it’s probably a material that cannot be recycled.
  35. Retailer Primark has introduced paper bags that can double up as wrapping paper by tearing away the handles and bottom.
  36. UK supermarket Morrisons has removed glitter across all its own-brand ranges for Christmas. Its cracker shells will be made from cardboard and decorated with a metallic-based ink so they can be recycled at kerbside, along with their packaging. All cracker contents – such as games and gifts – will now be designed to be kept and reused.
  37. The traditional Japanese art of Furoshiki – mentioned earlier – is catching on further afield for wrapping presents in brightly coloured fabric that can be reused.

    And lastly, Season's Greetings from us all at IOM3!

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