An elf, decorating its Christmas tree

The measure of Christmas: festive facts and figures

Image credit: Pixabay

To mark the beginning of the festive season we take a look at some surprising figures hidden behind one of the world’s biggest annual celebrations: Christmas.

90 per cent: the overall energy saving offered by LED bulbs

Today, the majority of Christmas lights on the market for household use contain LED bulbs, which use up to 90 per cent less energy than their old incandescent counterparts, translating into small annual energy savings per household– approximately 0.07 per cent – but significant savings overall. To put this figure into perspective, we calculated how much energy would be saved if all UK households used incandescent lights, as opposed to making the switch to LED lighting. This equation assumes that approximately 91.2 per cent of the UK population celebrates Christmas, equating to roughly 25 million households overall, based on religious affiliation statistics from the Pew Research Centre.

An average string of 100 incandescent lights draws approximately 40 watts compared to 5 watts for 100 LED lights. Let’s assume each household celebrating Christmas in the UK uses one string of 100 lights. If each house was to use their lights for two hours a day for the duration of December, this would equate to 2.48 kWh of energy used for each incandescent household, as opposed to 0.31 kWh if using LEDs.

When applied to the country as a whole, the incandescent lights would use 62 GWh, or 62 million kWh in total, while the LEDs would use just 7.75 GWh – translating to a saving of 54.25 GWh overall.  According to Ofgem, the average UK household uses approximately 3,100 kWh of electricity each year, and so the total energy saved would be enough to power 17,500 houses for a year.

31 hours: the length of Santa’s working day

Santa only works one day a year – although his working ‘day’ owing to different time zones and rotation of the earth, is actually about 31 hours long. By comparison, an engineer working a 40 hour week with five weeks holiday entitlement, can hope to rack up 1880 hours of work a year – some 60 times more than that worked by Santa.

Short working year aside, visiting every home on Earth in one night is no mean feat. According to the Ministry of Fun founder James Lovell, Santa has to deliver presents to approximately 2.1 billion children each Christmas Eve, assuming a global average of 2.5 children per house, requiring 842 million stops. By allowing an average of 0.2km between each house, Santa would need to travel approximately 351 million km in one night.

In order to do this within the 31 hours afforded by travelling from east to west, Santa would need to travel at a speed of 2060 km per second, and spend just 0.0001 of a second in each house. Luckily, as dictated by Einstein’s theory of relativity the faster an object travels, the slower time appears to pass – and so each millisecond-long rest stop is, thankfully for Santa, just that little bit longer.

10 million: the number of turkeys consumed each Christmas season  

Despite giving it little thought the rest of the year, turkey has become a festive family favourite for Christmas dinner in the UK. This year, a majority of British families, some 76 per cent, are expected to opt for turkey as the pièce de résistance for their yuletide feast. According to figures from the Freight Transport Association and independent food community Tabl, this amounts to a total of 10 million turkeys, which, with an average weight of 5.5kg per bird, adds up to almost 20,000 tonnes of meat once the bones are picked clean.  

This year, the humble bird will accompanied by 40 million Brussel sprouts and followed by approximately 25 million Christmas puddings, alongside all the rest of the trimmings and this adds up to a pretty significant meal. According to Tabl, the average Christmas dinner contains a whopping 6-7000 calories, which would take up to 12 hours’ worth of exercise to burn off once the new year rolls around.

That’s just the beginning of our Christmas consumption. All that food certainly makes for thirsty work, with the FTA estimating a 40 per cent increase in alcohol consumption, with some 600 million cumulative units of alcohol imbibed throughout the festive season, including 35 million bottles of wine and 250 million pints of beer.

150kg: the load-pulling capacity of a reindeer

Don’t be fooled, Santa’s eight festive helpers aren’t ‘tiny’ at all; in fact, reindeer are a pretty large species. A male reindeer can measure in at anything from 70 to 140cm tall, between 1.2 and 2.2 m long, and weigh anywhere from 120kg to an impressive 300 kg. A conventional reindeer is also capable of pulling an impressive 150kg of weight on land. Presumably, Santa’s reindeer are significantly more powerful.  

The average wild reindeer has a life expectancy of up to 15 years, with captivity awarding them a little extra time. Assuming that Santa’s herd are well cared for, they can expect to live for up to 20 years, and as they only work one day a year, let’s assume they start working in their first year, and are able to go on working throughout the duration of their lives.

Each year on Christmas Eve, Santa’s reindeer travel 351 million km kilometres in total. The yearly excursion adds up to an impressive 7.02 billion kilometres over the course of their 20-year lifespan – significantly more than the estimated 84 million km travelled by an average commercial jet over a 30-year career, based on travelling 3,500 hours a year at an average speed of 800 kmph.

90 per cent: the proportion of British families who put up a Christmas tree

Each year, approximately 60 million pine trees are grown in Europe for the sole purpose of decorating family houses when the festive season rolls around. According to the British Christmas Tree Growers Association, some eight million of these trees are sold in the UK. In recent years, artificial trees have increased in popularity, with new models not only looking the part, but offering a number of benefits over traditional trees, including significant cost savings generated by reusing a tree every year.

Opting for reusable products helps protect the environment, or so we are told. So it might come as a shock to know that from an environmental perspective it may make more sense to buy a real tree each year rather than an artificial tree less often.

According to the Carbon Trust, a two-metre-tall real tree with no roots that is incinerated after use has a carbon footprint of approximately 3.2kg CO2. Burning a tree produces only the carbon dioxide stored during its growth, and therefore there is no net increase in CO2 during its disposal. However, if a real tree of the same size ends up in landfill, its carbon footprint is approximately 16kg, owing to the methane emitted during decomposition – a greenhouse gas that is 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Artificial trees of a similar size have a much higher carbon footprint of approximately 40kg CO2 – more than 10 times that of a tree which ends its life on a garden bonfire.

23.7 days: the average UK annual snowfall

If there is one thing we all wish for when drawing back the bedroom curtains on Christmas morning, it’s a blanket of crisp white snow. The UK owes its persistent preoccupation with the white stuff to the snow-smothered Victorian fiction of Charles Dickens. The author’s unusually cold childhood, which included the winter of 1813-14 when ice on the Thames was thick enough to bear the weight of an elephant, helped forge the image of a classic British Christmas.

Despite the UK getting an average of 23.7 days of snowfall a year, the festive reality in the UK is far from white, so it may come as a surprise to know that our last official white Christmas was 2015. In order for a Christmas to be deemed ‘white’, a single snowflake must be seen falling from the sky within the 24 hours of December 25th, and, back in 2015, although there was no snow on the ground, 10 per cent of the UK’s weather stations recorded falling snow. The last widespread white Christmas in the UK was during the La Niña-induced cold winter of 2010-2011. Some 83 per cent of weather stations recorded snow on the ground – the highest amount ever recorded – and 19 per cent recorded actual snowfall.

It’s still too soon to tell what this year will bring, but the Met Office is predicting a full La Niña weather event from mid-November to early December, so we could be in luck.

30 per cent: the increase in waste over the Christmas season

It’s important to remember that not everything about the festive season is as wonderful as it might seem. In decorating our houses, giving gifts to all our loved ones and cooking up a spectacular family feast we produce as much as 30 per cent more waste over the Christmas period than at any other time of the year.

According to statistics gathered by household and industrial recyclers across the UK, the country’s food waste alone for the month of December is through the roof. Each year the equivalent of approximately 17.4 million Brussel sprouts, two million turkeys, and 74 million mince pies are thrown in the bin.

All this food left at the roadside along with more than six million Christmas trees, one billion Christmas cards, 13,000 tonnes of glass, 30,000 tonnes of card packaging, 4,200 tonnes of aluminium foil and 83 square kilometres of wrapping paper. If recycled correctly the glass alone could save more than 4,200 tonnes of CO2 from being produced, but in reality, a scary amount is sent straight to landfill. 

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