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Ornamental strips made of lilac, blue and purple colored tinsel

File:Lametta - Christmas decorations.jpg

Original lametta (silver foil with tin and lead)

File:Weihnachtsbaum und Geschenke 1970er.jpg

A Christmas tree decorated with dangling strands of lametta.

Tinsel, is a type of decorative material that mimics the effect of ice, consisting of thin strips of sparkling material attached to a thread. When in long narrow strips not attached to thread, it is called "lametta", and emulates icicles. It was originally a metallic garland for Christmas decoration. The modern production of tinsel typically involves plastic, and is used particularly to decorate Christmas trees. It may be hung from ceilings or wrapped around statues, lampposts, and so on. Modern tinsel was invented in Nuremberg, Germany, in 1610, and was originally made of shredded silver.

According to the Concise Oxford Dictionary, the word is from the Old French word estincele, meaning “sparkle”.


Tinsel was invented in Nuremberg around 1610.[1] Tinsel was originally made from extruded strands of silver. Because silver tarnishes quickly, other shiny metals were substituted. Before the 16th century, tinsel was used for adorning sculptures rather than Christmas trees. It was added to Christmas trees to enhance the flickering of the candles on the tree. Tinsel was used to represent the starry sky over a Nativity scene.Script error: No such module "Unsubst".

By the early 20th century, manufacturing advances allowed cheap aluminium-based tinsel, and until World War I, France was the world leader in its manufacture. Production was curtailed during the First World War as a result of wartime demand for copper.[2]

During the 1950s, tinsel and tinsel garlands were so popular that they frequently were used more than Christmas lights, as tinsel was much less of a fire hazard than lights were for the then-popular aluminium Christmas trees, which were made from flammable aluminized paper.Script error: No such module "Unsubst".

Lead foil was a popular material for tinsel manufacture for several decades of the 20th century. Unlike silver, lead tinsel did not tarnish, so it retained its shine. However, use of lead tinsel was phased out after the 1960s due to concern that it exposed children to a risk of lead poisoning.[3] In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) concluded in August 1971 that lead tinsel caused an unnecessary risk to children, and convinced manufacturers and importers to voluntarily stop producing or importing lead tinsel after January 1, 1972. The FDA did not actually ban the product because the agency did not have the evidence needed to declare lead tinsel a "health hazard."[4]

Modern tinsel is typically made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC) film coated with a metallic finish.[5] Coated mylar film also has been used.[3] These plastic forms of tinsel do not hang as well as tinsel made from heavy metals such as silver and lead.[5]

Figurative use

Germans refer to a row of military Awards and decorations as Lametta (German for tinsel), similar to dressing in full regalia or with a high level of formality. Humorist Loriot's 1977 film "Weihnachten bei Hoppenstedts" about a family Christmas involved a Prussian educated grandfather humming the de:Helenenmarsch with "ra-da-buff" and deploring the lack of tinsel („Früher war mehr Lametta!“ "There used to be more tinsel!" has become proverbial).[6]

The expression was coined earlier by Hermann Göring, e.g. in a Chanson by Claire Waldoff, Rechts Lametta, links Lametta, Und der Bauch wird imma fetta (right tinsel, left tinsel, and the belly gets immense).[7]

Other uses

Tinsel has many traditional uses in India, including decorations on images, garlands for weddings and other ceremonies, and ornamental trappings for horses and elephants.[8] Tinsels of various types are popular materials used in fly tying.

See also


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  6. IMDb Title tt0393440 Loriot 14: Weihnachten bei Hoppenstedts.
  7. Underground Humour In Nazi Germany, 1933-1945 Dr F K M Hillenbrand, Routledge, September 11, 2002.
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