Christmas: Its essential ingredients and the chemistry behind them
Christmas, arguably, is a magical time across the globe. From the smell of freshly baked cakes and cookies to steaming hot cups of ginger and clove tea, the festival provides people with an opportunity to spend quality time together. And if you are under COVID-19 quarantine during Christmas, here are a few tips to enjoy the festival at home. And if you have been wondering about the chemistry behind the ubiquitous elements of Christmas celebrations, we have you covered! Let's pen down some of the elements in detail and the chemistry behind them.
Preparations of Christmas
Why is it customary to burn the candles on Christmas Eve? The first one welcomes a little light and warmth in the evening, and then two, three, followed by a bunch of them. When it comes to the chemistry behind candles, it is definitely customary to burn the candles and you have to be careful with them too, especially when you have kids around. Traditionally, candles are made of soy wax or beeswax. However, if you are lighting scented candles, they are made of coal, shale oil, and petroleum. Scented candles are highly toxic that may cause allergies and inflammation of soft tissues. Essential oils are a better alternative to scented candles.
One of the obligatory ornaments for decoration is colourful balls for the tree. Christmas balls are actually masterpieces in their own right as they are made by transforming glass into shiny balls. Yes, you read that right! They are made of GLASS! So if you heat them at 1000°C, they turn very soft. Glass is an amorphous material with no constant or regular crystal structure, and turns ductile when melted. Once the shape is adjusted, it is then decorated with chemical dyes and paint. So you might want to think twice before you buy Christmas balls.
One of the traditional and characteristic scents of Christmas is the aromatic note of spruce and pine on the Christmas tree. The aromatic smell of the tree is that of fir and pine which is made of an organic compound called α-pine, found in its resin. One interesting fact about the same is that it can be used as an insecticide and for inhalation as well. This element is also found in conifer oils which resembles the fresh aroma of the forest.
Aromas of Christmas
The aroma of Christmas is incomplete without spicy gingerbread cookies. But what really makes them so irresistible is the fusion of dried orange peels, nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon, and the King of Flavour 'Ginger'! But is it healthy to eat gingerbread cookies? The answer is both No and Yes! Most of the cookies are loaded with sugar and fats that, as you probably already know, lead to obesity and heart problems. But the good news is the other ingredients in the cookie dough. Some of the ingredients like ginger, orange peel, and cloves are good for your skin and other body parts. For instance, ginger and cinnamon are known as 'superfoods' as they have antioxidant properties and thus provide several health benefits. Antioxidants protect our cells from damage as they stop the formation of radicals that can cause diabetes, cancer, and other cardiovascular diseases.
A Christmas Eve dinner is incomplete without a toast of wine. 'Mulled wine' is a special wine that people prefer to enjoy during Christmas celebrations. This wine includes eugenol, which is an aromatic compound of ‘terpene’ that occurs in cinnamon and incarnation oil. Mulled wine has anaesthetic and disinfecting properties. However, an overdose of terpenes can cause a stimulating effect that is harmful to our health. So make sure, you are cautious about the consumption of wine this year.
Let it snow!
Ice crystal formation is quite common in western countries during Christmas and New Year's celebration. The ice crystals then join together to form snow. People enjoy snow in this weather in different forms like pellets, sleet, or snowflakes. While people enjoy playing with snowflakes and pellets, there is one particular unwanted type of snow 'sleet' that freezes when falling on the ground. They are small translucent ice balls which are quite slippery and can cause injuries to people.
While Christmas is all about solemn hours and festive evenings, the chemistry of its essential elements is intriguing. So whenever you are decorating your Christmas tree or baking fresh cookies, you will know the science behind it all! This is the information that you can flaunt in front of your friends and families. Though this year was catastrophic for many people amid COVID-19 pandemic, the season of festival surely brings the way of joy, even if you are celebrating under quarantine. Stay tuned with AlShorts for the latest bulletins while you share a toast of joy with your family on Christmas eve.