I just finished putting the tinsel on our Christmas tree. I had planned for it to be a moment worthy of a Hallmark Channel Christmas special - an evening with the whole family at home, my kids recovered from the trauma of putting the ornaments on the tree several weeks earlier, my husband in a Bill Cosby sweater, all of us drinking cocoa out of matching Santa mugs (and definitely not the one that says Bad Ass - that one is getting put in the back of the cabinet until after New Year’s), Mannheim Steamroller in the background, and putting just enough tinsel on the tree to make it sparkle a little bit.
Instead, I tossed handfuls of tinsel on our tree, by myself, at 9:30 in the morning, wearing a pajama top and the jeans I threw on to drive my daughter to school.
Not exactly made for TV, unless you’re talking Intervention.
Tinseling the tree is supposed to be the finishing touch, the icing on the cake, not the straw that broke the camel’s back. And it should be fun, damnit.
This year’s pre-tinsel tree decorating was particularly grim. While I put together the tree and strung the lights (unequivocally the two hardest things about all Christian holidays combined and, yes, I’m including Lenten fasting in this generalization) I asked my kids to unwrap the ornaments, find the missing hooks, and hang them on the side of the big bin so we could decorate the tree all together. You would have thought I asked them to do a jigsaw puzzle with me.
Growing up, I remember putting the tinsel on the tree as the most rewarding part of decorating for the holidays. My sisters and brother and I would put the tinsel on the tree all together. Then we would plug in the tree lights and take off our glasses.
Being nearsighted gives tinsel the perfect glow. I used to wish everything looked like a tinseled and lit-up Christmas tree with 20/400 vision. It would make being half blind so worth it.
My sister Pam, the future engineer, would make the same speech every year right before we put the tinsel on: “Now let’s not put it on in big clumps. Take your time and put one or two at the most strands on each branch.” We agreed that fistfuls of tinsel was tacky with a capital T.
So we would start out picking individual strands of tinsel and working hard to get them off of our fingers and onto the tree. That was when I perfected the “snag and release” tinseling technique, where I run a few strands over the tree and allow them to catch on the branches. After about 5 minutes of that, we would realize that Ed Sullivan was coming on and we couldn’t stand around all night creating a tinsel masterpiece. We’re an easily discouraged family. The tinsel ended up going on in clumps. In the end, our tree was total kitsch.
This morning, after the pathetic tinseling (and after I put on real clothes) I GoodSearched history of tinsel and came up with these fun facts:
• Tinsel used to be made out of shredded silver (real silver! I know!!!) then it was made of aluminum, so you didn’t have to be stinking rich to afford it. (Yay Middle Class!) Now it’s made out of polyvinyl chloride. (Plastic. Boo.)
• The word tinsel comes from the old French word estincele, meaning sparkle. (Any fact that has the word sparkle in it is truly fun.)
• Wikipedia snuck this one in its entry on tinsel: “Tinsel was used in some countries back in the 1850s to hang people who protested in the rights for rabbits campaign.”
Really? Just, really?
Looks like Wikipedia is trying to ruin my sparkly Christmas vibe. Next week, when I look up history of gingerbread houses I’m inclined to ignore them.