Where Does Tinsel Come From?
Right now, it's hard to go without seeing Christmas decorations anywhere. In shops, on streets, in living room windows - everywhere!
One of the most famous Christmas decorations that people like to use at Christmas is tinsel.
So you might think that using it is an old tradition, and that people in England have been decorating their houses with wire for a long time.
But that's not true. In fact, in Britain, tinsel is considered a fairly modern tradition.
We owe a great deal to the British Victorians for their Christmas traditions.
Despite their love for Christmas, there is virtually no evidence that Queen Victoria used tinsel in her trees.
Well, the idea of tinsel goes back to Nuremberg, Germany, in 1610.
Here, they used thin strands of real silver to reflect the candles on the trees, because they had put real candles on the trees (don't do that now!).
Silver is very expensive, so being able to do this shows you're rich.
Although silver looks beautiful and shiny at first, it will soon lose its luster, which means it will lose its lovely, bright appearance.
So it was exchanged for other materials, such as copper and tin. The metals are also cheaper, which means more people can use them.
But when World War I broke out in 1914, the war needed metals like copper. As a result, they cannot be used as Christmas decorations and therefore substitutes are needed.
It was replaced with aluminum, but this caused fire fears. So it was changed to lead, but it turned out to be toxic! So people didn't have much luck choosing a viable metal.
Today, wires are made of a material called polyvinyl chloride, or PVC for short.
Before molding PVC into tape that can be used in wire machine, PVC is specially treated to make it beautiful and shiny.
When did the Christmas tinselactually come to England? The truth is, no one actually knows.
During the 17th century, when it is generally agreed that the tradition of tinsel began first, Britain was closely associated with Germany, so it would not be surprising if Britain copied the tradition.
But the fact that the Victorians don't seem to have used wire suggests that this is a more modern tradition than this.
So it seems we may never know for sure!
The long history of the tinsel, which derives from the French word "sparkle", dates back to the 16th century. The tinsel was originally made of extruded silver alloy and was actually first used for decorative sculpture. It was not until later that it became a Christmas tree ornament, used to enhance the flicker of candles.
By the early 20th century, manufacturing had begun to allow the production of cheaper aluminum tinsel, making shiny fittings more accessible to the masses. In the 1950s, tinsel became so popular that it was often used as an alternative to Christmas lights. Even better, aluminum doesn't spoil like silver, which means it can be reused every year without losing luster.
Over the years, lead foil became the material of choice for tinsel manufacturers. Although not as flammable as aluminum, lead certainly comes with a minor problem of lead poisoning. As lead exposure rose in the 1970s, the FDA declared lead tinsel to be an "unnecessary risk to children."
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