Sunday, December 24, 2017

All That Tinsel in Classic Christmas Movies...

Any classic film buff who has seen the majority of classic Christmas movies from the Thirties to the Sixties soon learns one thing. Tinsel was a very popular Christmas tree decoration. For those of you who are unfamiliar with tinsel, it is a decoration, originally made of metal, meant to mimic the appearance of ice. It was first developed in Nuremberg, Germany in the 17th Century. Originally silver was used, although later other metals were utilised to make tinsel. It was in the early 20th Century that aluminium tinsel was developed, reducing the price of tinsel greatly. It was perhaps for that reason that tinsel proved popular as a Christmas tree decoration for much of the 20th Century.

Indeed, an early example of  the use of tinsel in a classic movie can be seen in Nick and Nora Charles's Christmas tree in The Thin Man (1934), which prominently features tinsel. In sharp contrast, the Christmas tree in Holiday Inn (1942) had no real tinsel.

The tree in Holiday Inn
Holiday Inn appears to have been one of the exceptions with regards to Christmas trees in holiday films of the Forties. The trees in Christmas in Connecticut (1944), It's a Wonderful Life (1947), and especially The Bishop's Wife (1947) all had tinsel.

The tree in Christmas in Connecticut
The tree in It's a Wonderful Life
The tree in The Bishop's Wife
Tinsel continued to be popular in the Fifties. An example of this is the tree in Desk Set (1957). Not unlike the tree in The Bishop's Wife, it was absolutely drenched in tinsel.

The tree from Desk Set
While I cannot say for certain, it seems to me that the popularity of tinsel started to decline in the Sixties. At least in many of the Christmas variety specials made during the era, not to mention the various animated holiday specials, most trees did not appear to have a whole lot of tinsel.

Much of the decline in tinsel's popularity may have been due to the fact that for much of the 20th Century a good deal of tinsel was made using lead foil. As the dangers of lead poisoning became evident, lead tinsel was phased out following the Sixties. While other materials would be developed to make tinsel, the popularity of tinsel has never quite recovered from it had been in the Forties and Fifties. At the very least, I know my family never used much in the way of tinsel on our trees. Regardless, it seems to me that if one wants his or her tree to look like it came from a Christmas movie from the Forties, he or she would be wise to cover it in tinsel....

1 comment:

Carissa said...

I loved tinsel on our trees when I was a child, but when pets came on the scene it became a big no-no. I still remember it fondly and have a pack leftover from my childhood, but until I don't have pets, I will never use it. And I plan to always have pets.