The weeks preceding Christmas are usually incredibly busy. There are plenty of presents to buy, decorations to put up, Christmas cards to be sent, friends and colleagues to meet up with, and food cupboards to fill.
But when everything is set and ready, when the Turkey is stuffed, all the gifts have been wrapped, and when the carols have been sung. There comes a peaceful moment in which to reflect upon the joy of the season.
During these moments, people often take time to give thanks for everything that they have, but rarely does anyone consider what it takes to get it.
Take the Christmas tree for example. It is often central to making any home festive, yet it took thousands of work hours and plenty of effort for the supply chain to provide this simple token.
Most likely it was grown on a farm with the help of fertilizers. Fertilizers which consume about half of the world’s sulphur and over 90% of the global supply of potash and phosphates.
The fairy lights have wires made of copper insulated in PVC plastic, the socket is probably a thermoset polyester, and the plug is possibly made from melamine or similar petrochemical combined with pumice, limestone, marble, vermiculite, silica, feldspar, or trona.
The glass bulbs which make up the lights on the tree contain feldspar, silica, clay, nepheline syenite, and trona, while the bulb elements are composed of tungsten metal, which is derived from the minerals scheelite and wolframite. The glistening Christmas tree decorations are produced from materials similar to those used in the light bulbs, with perhaps added borate, as well as iron, copper, and lead.
Additionally, the Christmas tree stand and the ornament hangers are frequently made of an iron- or aluminium-based metal alloy. The ornaments are painted with vibrant paints and glazes that are made from petrochemicals, mica, or clay and contain pigments like the lithium in spodumene, the titanium in rutile, the manganese in pyrolusite, and the rare earth elements in bastnesite and monazite.
In total, there are well over twenty different raw materials used to provide a decorated and well-lit Christmas tree. Never mind the materials used to bring those products together!
So, when the time comes to contemplate the year’s end and give thanks in the warmth of the Christmas tree lights, spare a thought for those who helped make the season special.
Consider the miners, the truck drivers, the railway workers, the procurement officers, the smelters, the processing plant workers, all those who work in the manufacturing sector, and everyone involved in the supply chain. They help make Christmas and they deserve much thanks.
Merry Christmas everyone!
Photo credit: Kristina Paukshtite at Pexels, Valeria Boltneva, & Nastya Sensei