The word Tinsel originates from the French word “estincele” meaning to Sparkle. How appropriate.
Tinsel was invented in 1600 in Germany to enhance the glow (or Sparkle) of light from the lit candles attached to the Christmas tree. The thin, metal strands were initially made of stretched and cut thin stands of real silver. These tinsels were popular and although entire garlands were only affordable to the wealthy, strands of tinsel were more accessible. It soon became apparent that the silver would tarnish with its close proximity to candle flame. The tinsel then was made of a silver laminated cooper wire (until the bringing of WWI) or tin coated lead. Another option at the time was an aluminum and cellulose acetate which was also beautiful but quite flammable.
The tin coated lead was quite popular as it would hang beautifully on the tree and was heavy enough to produce a very glittery effect. Due to the way it was made, this tinsel had to be placed on the Christmas tree one stand at a time. Tinsel in this form was used all the way up to 1972 when the understanding of lead poisoning caused production to end. At that time some manufacturers reverted back to using real silver and yet others experimented with gold strands. Not long after that plastic polyvinyl tinsel that we know today was created.
Regardless of its composition, there can be no doubt that tinsel and garlands of tinsel add a reflective quality to the trees they adorn. A Christmas Testimony – Christmas Symbols and Their Meanings (web), tells of a legend surrounding the shiny Tinsel.
It states that one family, a poor family, desperately wanted to decorate their Christmas Tree for Christmas in honour of Christ, the babe born so long ago. As they were poor, they had no money for decorations. The legend goes on to tell of how spiders came in the night and spun magnificent webs across the tree. As dawn approached those webs were turned into silver threads honoring the family’s faith.
Whether real or imagined, the story of tinsel speaks to the miracle of Christmas and all that can happen in an attitude of faith and expectancy.
Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son and shall call his name EMMANUEL,
God with Us.