From mentions in numerous holiday tunes to being lit in homes across the country, candles are as much a part of Christmas tradition as holly and ivy. In the 19th century, candles were used to illuminate Christmas trees. In Sweden, St. Lucia’s Day is celebrated by a girl dressing in a white dress with a red sash round her waist and a crown of candles on her head.
Candles are a major market for paraffin waxes. While the scented candle you purchase at a local candle store might have various types of waxes, it will almost always have paraffin wax. Paraffin waxes are mostly found as a white, odorless, tasteless, solid, with a typical melting point between about 46 and 68 degrees Celsius (115 and 154 degrees Fahrenheit), and a density of around 900 kg/m3. While paraffin waxes are insoluble in water and unaffected by most common chemical reagents, they do burn readily with heat of combustion of 42 kJ/g.
But let’s put the physics aside. The paraffin waxes used in your holiday candles are a derivative of petroleum. Besides candles, they play other roles throughout this season. Paraffin waxes are used for the coating of the hard cheeses your neighbor brings over for the party. They are used in the crayons the kids use to color in Santa Claus in the coloring books. They are used in the make-up that is donned when going out on New Year’s Eve. And if your holiday plans include skiing in Colorado or surfing in Maui, paraffin waxes are used as glide waxes for skis and surfboards.
So when you light your candles this year, you can thank the manufacturers of paraffin waxes for helping make your holiday season festive and bright.