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Sat Dec 9, 2017, 12:24 PM

FSogol's Advent Calendar Day 9: Things you might not know about tinsel

Christmas in the 1950s and 1960s was much shinier. Aluminum Christmas trees illuminated blue, green and red by a rotating color wheel sparkled in American living rooms. The trendy fake trees were a Midwestern creation, first manufactured in Chicago in 1955. They were all the rage for a decade, as the natural evergreen in 1965's A Charlie Brown Christmas is credited with killing off the trend.*

The decoration of choice for these twinkling Tannenbaums, of course, was tinsel. Perhaps no holiday decoration better captures a retro Christmas than tinsel. Many of us share memories of draping strands of the thin, reflective strips with the family. Then again, some of us had to pick the strands off one by one to save for the next year.

It was invented as early as 1610 - It should come as no surprise that Germany, Nuremberg specifically, the country that created the Christmas tree, also dreamt up tinsel as an adornment. What might surprise you is just how long ago it was. Tinsel dates back to the Renaissance, the word itself coming from the French estincelle ("spark" ). The Oxford English Dictionary dates the usage of "tinsel" as "very thin strips of shiny metal" back to the 1590s. It's unknown which genius thought to drape some on a fir tree. Some other historical accounts only trace Xmas tinsel back to the 1840s.

It was originally made of silver - Those 17th-century Germans certainly did not skimp when it came to tinsel. While using real silver to make tinsel sounds fancy, anyone with silverware will tell you there is a downside, especially when you put the stuff near candle flame it tarnishes, turns black. As rubbing strands of tinsel with Tarn-X is time consuming, if not impossible, eventually the material was switched to aluminum. Those purists out there can still buy silver tinsel from its homeland, for about $18 a box.

More (including how much lead was in the version your family had when you were a kid) at:


* This gets said a lot on the net, but I don't believe it. By 1965, the post war boom was over and a more traditional ethos in design was happening. Ecology, nature, and the back-to-earth movement were coming into vogue. Charles Shutlz mocked what was already happening; Aluminum trees were on their way out.

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