Christmas is a time of tradition and ritual, such as singing “We wish you a merry Christmas” to the Christmas pudding as it emerges, alight, into the dining room… (OK, so that’s a personal tradition, but I have only just found this out. I thought everyone did this up until last year!)
Every day until now, we’ve been explaining where and why various Christmas traditions came about. Today (Christmas Eve), we’re finishing with tinsel!
Tinsel | Germany
There is nothing more Christmassy than the smell of tinsel! If you’ve never really smelt it, go on, get your nose right in there! I have the Germans to thank for this. The original idea, back in 1610, was to make Christmas decorations that looked like icicles or ice.
When it was first created, in Nuremberg, it was made from real silver (now that’s decadent!) The problem with that was that it tarnished quickly, and the amount of time you would have to spend polishing tinsel would be ridiculous! So, alternative materials were used, and up until the First World War, France was the world leader in tinsel production. (Incidentally, the word tinsel comes from the French world “estincele” which means sparkle!)
In the 50s, a lot of tinsel was made out of lead foil. Merry Christmas, have some lead poisoning! Although it was never declared an official health hazard, it wasn’t ideal, and once the risk was recognised, lead tinsel stopped being produced.
These days tinsel is made from PVC finished with metallic coat. It is said that this plastic tinsel doesn’t hang so well, but I think I would prefer this to having to polish my tinsel, or have it poisoning me!