Snow is a big part of celebrating Christmas, even when it isn’t winter.
For those living in tropical countries and in the Southern Hemisphere where it’s summer this time of year, supermarket carols and plastic pine trees may be as festive as it gets. Meanwhile, some shopping malls whip out family-friendly machines that spew white foam as kids go berserk over a soapy attempt at snow.
Every year, white objects that only passably resemble snow from afar (you know, those cotton blankets and glitter confetti used to decorate mall displays) are used to pay tribute to a white Christmas in places where snow doesn’t grace.
Evidently, anywhere can be transformed into a winter wonderland with a willing audience.
From children’s science hacks using baking soda and shaving cream to scientists recreating nature-identical snow in the lab, snow knock-offs come in a variety of sophistication. But the core idea remains: to put snow where it isn’t.
The deep romanticization of a white Christmas may actually boil down to a historical accident. In the period between the 14th and 19th centuries (also known as the Little Ice Age because of cooling temperatures in the Northern Atlantic), many songs and stories referenced snowy winter landscapes—an image that really took root with the raging popularity of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.
Since then, the cultural imagination of a snowy Christmas has continued to thrive thanks to classic songs like Winter Wonderland and the annual slew of Christmas movies. Snow is now universally accepted as a symbol of Christmas, even when its occurrence isn’t universal at all.
While those in the Northern Hemisphere don snuggly Christmas sweaters, Australians find themselves at the height of summer. This is where fake snow comes into good use.
“People—especially kids—get so excited when they see the snow falling because in Australia it never snows at Christmas,” Dean Sunshine, owner of Melbourne-based fake snow supplier Snowmasters, told VICE.
Within the fake snow industry, ingredients used to make fake snow range from dried mashed potatoes to polystyrene balls and shredded paper.
According to Sunshine, there are different pros and cons that come with different types of fake snow. For example, dry snow, which is recycled shredded plastic, is typically laid on the ground. It’s known for its ability to be piled up and walked on, allowing people to leave footprints that look like they just stepped onto a snow-covered road.
Also made out of recycled plastic, but fluffier, is theater snow. Known for its lightness—which allows it to float down cinematically and cling to Christmas trees—it’s often used in shop displays and theaters to give a lush, snow-clad look.
Both dry snow and theater snow can be reused, said Sunshine. They’re also good for a fuss-free clean-up, since they can be easily vacuumed after use.
There are also recipes to recreate dreamy snowy scenes by mixing different types of fake snow.
Evaporative falling snow is a light foam created by a snow machine, and it evaporates when it lands. It’s often sprinkled from the roofs of theme parks and shopping malls.
Instant snow is made of an absorbent polymer that takes on a clumpy texture when mixed with water. Used in some indoor snow parks, instant snow can be molded into “snowballs” for a non-wintry snowball fight.
“This falling snow, plus instant snow on the ground, is what you normally see in film and TV. But we now can provide that on a small scale for homes or small events,” Richard Bayer, owner of SnoWonder, told VICE. Located in northern California, SnoWonder offers a variety of fake snow for community events and decorations.
Besides jazzing up retail stores and your little home Christmas tree, man-made snow is a super serious affair that extends beyond the holiday season.
Artificial snow, created by firing water droplets into the cold air to create ice particles, is commonly used at ski resorts to weather non-snowy seasons, keeping the slopes ski-friendly even when there isn’t real snow. The 2022 Winter Olympics, to be held in Beijing in February, will also feature artificial snow—though the decision has surfaced environmental concerns due to the sheer amount of snow needed to cover the Yanqing mountains and its water-intensive manufacturing process.
Smaller versions of the snow guns required to blast artificial snow have been created for household use. To the delight of many Christmas lovers, this means building actual snowmen and snow angels in your own backyard. While it’s as close to real snow as one can probably get at home, artificial snow comes with certain drawbacks—it’s pricier than other fake snow alternatives and the artificial snow, which is essentially ice shavings, will also quickly melt into puddles if they are blasted in hot weather.
Between potentially messy cleanups and pricey snow guns, the recipe to fashion your very own white Christmas can be an onerous affair—though the process of concocting your perfect fake snow recipe may well be part of the fun. But if all of this sounds like way too much dedication to a cultural imagination, there’s no shame in simply whipping out a wool blanket and plastic snowflakes for your Christmas party.
Follow Koh Ewe on Instagram.