When we were kids, the family Christmas tree always featured fat electric lights, traditional bulbs, and tinsel. For those too young to remember it, tinsel was long, shiny, quasi-metallic strips that you hung from tree branches.
Tinsel also had the added benefit of being a great way for a brother to torment his sisters.
The most important feature of tinsel was its extraordinary reaction to static electricity. In fact, I would wager that most boys growing up during the ’60s learned about the properties of static electricity from two objects — tinsel and balloons.
Tinsel was always the last thing to go on the tree, after the electric lights had been strung and the bulbs placed to cover the inevitable gaps on the tree itself. Mom would open the pack of new tinsel and solemnly remind us to place the tinsel one strip at a time, rather than hurling unsightly gobs of tinsel on the tree limbs. The preferred single strand hanging approach approximated icicles and turned your tree into an object of glittering beauty.
The single strand placement approach was incredibly boring, however. My sisters would dutifully follow instructions, but it didn’t take long before I was placing the single strands on the back of my sisters’ sweaters, or on their hair, or shuffling my feet on the carpet and waving my hand past the tinsel to watch it move in response to the static electricity charge. After that, it was just a matter of time before I was giving UJ and my sisters static electricity shocks and all semblance of an orderly tree decoration process was lost.
Maybe there’s a reason people don’t seem to use tinsel like they used to.