Advent Thought For The Day: 13

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December 13th: The Trouble with Tinsel

Invented in Nuremberg in the early 17th Century, tinsel predates most other forms of Christmas decoration, including glass baubles, electric lights and foil-wrapped chocolates. It was originally fashioned from pure silver and used to decorate sculptures, religious icons and nativity scenes, where it represented a starry, night sky. Over the intervening 400 years, tinsel has become progressively less desirable and more polarising, with fashion almost completely casting it aside at the start of the 21st Century.

Having discovered very quickly that tinsel made from pure silver tarnishes quickly (can you imagine trying to polish tinsel?), alternative metals such as copper and aluminium were used. Then lead foil came along. I hardly need to outline the problems associated with this material. By the 1960s lead tinsel had been banned and was duly replaced by PVC film coated with a metallic finish, which is the material mostly used today. For me, the metallic smell of tinsel is one of the most evocative scents of Christmas and I confess to rather liking it. Alas PVC is a type of plastic, so it does not require a crystal ball to predict another, imminent twist in tinsel’s tale.

Many people, myself included, struggle to reconcile themselves with tinsel as a form of Christmas decoration. Like many other goods it’s become cheaper to manufacture and therefore cheaper to buy, thereby losing much of its original charm and cachet. The tinsel of my youth (we’re talking 1980s here) was fine, feathery and draped beautifully across the boughs of a tree, but since then supermarkets and discounters have made the product coarse, gaudy and ubiquitous. Christmas snobs and lovers of tradition abandoned the sparkly stuff in their droves, until three years ago you would struggle to find a decent strand of tinsel in any high street shop.

As in clothing, Christmas trends are cyclical. Along with Rubik’s cubes, dahlias and culottes, tinsel was due a come-back. After a year with no tinsel at all in our shops, I decided to bring it back, this time made in a Welsh factory rather than a Chinese one. I chose daring colours and ‘cuts’ that had not been seen before. Since 2017 tinsel has been a massive hit. Even I find myself looking at it, wondering where I might use a strand here and there to give my home a soupçon of sparkle. In 2018 it is unusual colours such as chocolate brown, clear iridescent and rainbow that are capturing the nation’s imagination.

Whatever you think of tinsel, it has endured for over 400 years, and is likely to survive another. Tinsel’s relatively low cost and ease of manufacture makes it an adaptable, affordable product. The way tinsel reflects light, always its main quality back in the days of candlelight, is unrivalled among Christmas decorations. Now that so many new colours and finishes are available there’s almost a strand for every situation. Take a fresh look, and I defy you not to fall in love with tinsel again. TFG.

Categories: Christmas, Musings

Posted by The Frustrated Gardener

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12 comments On "Advent Thought For The Day: 13"

  1. Good morning! I was a child in the sixties and so tinsel reminds me of childhood, but I’ve never had it in my own home, considering it old-fashioned, rather than traditional. Given your description of the new tinsels, I may revisit this. And I will be actively seeking an opportunity to use the phrase “like polishing tinsel”! Witty, sarcastic and yet festive!

  2. In 1980s we used to have tinsel on our Christmas trees. They were made of very thin foil cut into long stripes. They were called “Angel’s hair”. Lots of nice memories from that time. Have a nice day Dan. 🙂

  3. I have wonderful memories of tinsel garlands as a child….and whilst not on my dec list, what is there not to love about adding a little sparkle, in whatever form that might be 😃🎄

    1. I can’t imagine you with tinsel unless it was black or white, neither of which are terribly appealing. I’ve tried and the strands just look like they are made of shredded carrier bags. Just not classy enough for you Helen x

  4. When I was a child it was icicles dangling from the tree that made my heart skip a beat in excitement. I do like these colors of tinsel garlands. I haven’t seen these around here. Of course I live in a small town in the middle of no where. It usually takes trends YEARS to arrive here. By then they are out of favor. These colorful garlands could be used year round as birthday celebration decor. Or any significant celebration. Fun fun.

  5. If I wasn’t so determined to adopt a plastic free life, I’d be steaming up to ‘your shop’ to check out the tinsel. My lovely dad used to create swags of the stuff around the living room when I was young – so sparkly and exciting! But as Stan Lee says, “the Sixties were great but now we’re paying the price.”

    1. Good for you Caro. Perhaps adopt some second-hand tinsel and save it from going into landfill? If you don’t throw it away, it can’t do much harm to the environment. I never throw Christmas decorations away, but then I do have a very spacious loft!

  6. I’m with Caro. I love Christmas decoration excess, but have really had to curb it. I just can’t look at plastic decorations in the same way any more. It’s a little bit sad, but I think we just have to scale it back and live with a little less. I REALLY love all my baubles and now appreciate every strand of tinsel as I won’t be buying more.

  7. My childhood Christmas trees were draped in roped tinsel and single strands hung at the ends of each spruce branch. In my own home as a adult, I gave up tinsel because of its messiness. It’s too lightweight to remain hanging straight.

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