Friday, December 22, 2017

Christmas Firsts #22: Tinsel

 Who doesn’t love a bit of sparkle for Christmas? It should be no surprise that Germany, the country which thought of decorating trees for Christmas, invented tinsel. The FIRST tinsel made in Nuremberg around 1610 was real silver.  At first, tinsel was used to drape over statues, and not Christmas trees. 
Like many of the Christmas firsts uncovered this season, there are other claims…. Some say that the first “public” appearance of tinsel was sen in 1846 when Queen Victoria, Prince Albert and their family were seen gathered around a Christmas tree decorated with tinsel….. 

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.

I think it is really interesting the way tinsel has changed throughout the ages. , With the use of silver and gold, it seemed only the trees in wealthy households were decorated with tinsel. However, when candles were used to decorate trees, the silver would tarnish and turn black so silver tinsel I was replaced by other extruded metals like brass, and sliver plated copper In the 20th century, tinsel then was manufactured from aluminium and lead. Aluminium was was pretty but, flammable. 

Lead-based tinsel was a hit. “It was beautiful,” says Susan Waggoner, author of “Handcrafted Christmas” and other books about the holiday’s history. “You had to put it on the tree one strand at a time,” she recalls. “It didn’t tarnish and it would hang down heavy, and you’d have that dripping, glittering icicle effect.”

Surprisingly lead tinsel was manufactured and sold until 1972 - by the 1960’s there were concerns about the risks of lead poisoning to children and legislation about lead based products removed lead tinsel from the market. Today, tinsel is made from plastic or mylar with a metallic finish, supposedly much safer, but many say not as beautiful as in the ‘old days”. 

It might be considered a little tacky, but I love tinsel and  I am just about to hang it in the trees in my garden.

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