2013-12-06 / Farm News

Purdue Extension Corner

How Agriculture Impacts The Holidays
by Jenna Smith

The holiday season wouldn’t be the same without agriculture. When you look at holiday decorations, agriculture can be seen in many different ways. Candles can serve many different purposes in life and can bring a great deal of warmth to those in need of heat. When you look at a candle, you may not realize that it too has a strong connection to agriculture.

Many individuals have been credited with the creation of candles and there have been many agricultural products used to make candles. The first candles used by the Ancient Egyptians were rushlights or torches made by soaking the core of reeds in melted animal fat. Wax made from indigenous insects combined with seeds and rolled rice paper was used to make the candles utilized by the early Chinese. In comparison, the wax extracted from tree nuts was used in Japan and wax made by boiling the fruit of the cinnamon tree was used in India.

Tallow (or animal fat) was primarily used by early Western cultures to make candles. It wasn’t until the Middle Ages that individuals in Europe began to use beeswax instead. There were many advantages to beeswax over tallow since it burned pure, did not have a smoky flame, and emitted a sweet smell.

Another alternative to using tallow and beeswax came when colonial women began to use berries from the bayberry bush to make candles. Candles made from bayberry bushes produced a sweetsmell and burned clean like beeswax. However, it was extremely tedious to get the wax from the bayberries.

One of the biggest changes in candle making came in the 1850s when chemist learned how to efficiently separate the waxy substance from petroleum and refine it. This substance was called paraffin wax and was odorless when burned. It was economical to produce and a big leap forward for the candle making industry.

With plants grown to produce the wax, extracting wax from animal fat, utilizing bees wax, and now using paraffin wax to make candles, you can see the numerous links candles have within the agricultural industry. One final link came in the 1990s when U.S. agricultural chemist began to utilize soybean wax for candles. Soybean wax is softer and is a slower burning wax when compared to paraffin wax.

This holiday season when you are lighting your candles, remember that they are deeply connected to agriculture. As you light them, remember to stay safe by always using a candleholder specifically designed for candle use and trimming candlewicks to one-quarter inch before lighting or re-lighting them.

As always, if you have any questions or would like information on any agriculture, horticulture, or natural resource topic, then please contact your local Purdue Extension Office at 812-448-9041 in Clay County, or 829-5020 in Owen County. You can also reach me directly via email at smith535@purdue.edu Purdue University is an equal opportunity/equal access/ affirmative action institution.

Upcoming opportunities available to you through Purdue Extension include:

•December 10 – Sheep & Goat Webinar, 7:00 p.m., Owen County Extension Office.

•December 11 – Last Chance PARP, 1:00 p.m., Putnam County Fairgrounds.

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