Enjoy these twelve, scientifically-accurate, fantastically fun festive facts!

Boughs of holly

Did you know that not all holly leaves are prickly? Yes, a holly plant can be made up of both smooth and prickly leaves – due to being eaten by herbivores, such as wild goats and deer, holly leaves can change their leaf shape and size (this is called heterophylly), to make themselves pricklier and deter from being devoured! 1,2

The smell of pine

Alpha and beta pinene, limonene, and bornyl acetate are chemical compounds known as terpenes that contribute to the smell of pine, spruce, and fir trees! 3

Snow is falling

Snowflakes are water crystals made up of water molecules bonded together via hydrogen bonds aligning under attractive and repulsive forces to form unique, symmetrical hexagonal shapes.

Although water and ice are clear, snow appears white due to the many molecular surfaces scattering the light. 4

Super speedy Santa

To deliver Christmas presents to approximately 1.8 billion children across 32 hours (due to Earth’s rotation and time differences), Santa would need to make 15,625 deliveries per second. 5,6

Mistletoe is a parasite

Yes, mistletoe is a hemiparasite, meaning that it takes nutrients from the tree it is growing on as well as generating its own via photosynthesis. 7 As mistletoe blossoms during the winter, it is viewed as a symbol of vivacity and fertility, which is thought to have led to the tradition of kissing underneath it. 8

Gingerbread goodness

Did you know the medicinal properties of ginger? Ginger contains gingerol and shogaol compounds that work by blocking acetylcholine and serotonin neurotransmitters to prevent stomach contractions and the vomiting reflex, thus reducing nausea. 9

Hate Brussels sprouts?… It’s in your DNA!

Yes – the TAS2R38 gene encodes a G-protein coupled receptor that binds to glucosinolates and isothiocyanates found in brassica vegetables (including Brussels), resulting in a bitter taste. Common mutations in this gene can result in loss of bitter taste perception and as a result you may enjoy them more! 10

Why are robins so prominent in winter?

A robin’s feathers are very insulating, allowing them to withstand cold temperatures and maintain an internal temperature of about 40°C. They are also very adaptable, switching their diet to focus on fruits that are still found on some trees during the winter. 11

So why are robins associated with Christmas?

In the Victorian era, postmen wore red waistcoats as part of their uniform. This is thought to have led to robins appearing on Christmas cards as the posties dashing about delivering their festive letters looked like the red-breasted robins. They were even known as ‘robins’! 12

Rudolph, with your nose so bright!

It has been suggested that Rudolph’s famous red nose could be due to a respiratory parasitic infection as reindeer noses provide a great environment for pathogens, and they are vulnerable to at least 20 reindeer-specific parasites! 13

Another possibility for that big, shiny, red nose is that reindeer have densely packed blood vessels near to the skin’s surface of the nose which help to regulate body temperature. 14

It’s puddin’ time

When lighting a Christmas pudding covered in Brandy, you can see a blue flame – this is complete combustion of the ethanol in the Brandy, and this burns with a clear blue flame due to the oxygen content. 15

Top tip: It is important to warm the brandy before lighting it! This ensures that there is liquor vapour to light, as the vapour is the part that burns, leaving your Christmas pudding uncharred and ready to eat! 16

Going crackers for Christmas

The shock-sensitive substance, silver fulminate, is used in Christmas crackers. It coats one of the cardboard strips in the cracker, and the other strip is coated with an abrasive. When they slide along each other, the friction causes the few micrograms of silver fulminate to detonate, resulting in a ‘crack’! 15

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