As we all know, the glittery sight of tinsel is a holiday staple that decorates many Christmas trees this time of year. But do you know the history of tinsel or what it's actually made of?

This new video by Chemical & Engineering News tells us about the origins as well as the composition of tinsel throughout history. And some of the facts might surprise you.

Historians believe that the Germans invented tinsel in the 1600s. At first, they made it of real silver pressed into narrow strips. Obviously, this was probably a historical decorative practice limited to wealthy families. On those trees, the silver sparkled, especially when added with flickering lights in the form of real candles.

Yes, that's right. Historically, people used real candles on real flammable trees with real fire. But the sparkling was important, because traditionally, tinsel represented the sparkling of stars over the Nativity scene.

However, silver tarnishes easily, especially when exposed to the smoke coming from the candles, and blackened tinsel was ugly. So eventually, people made tinsel from other shiny metals. By the time the 20th century rolled around, people used metals such as tin and lead for adding their holiday sparkle.

Yes, that's right. People were throwing strands of lead on their trees. But by that time, less dangerous lights replaced lit candles, so maybe it was a fair trade-off.

Of course, in the 1960s, concerns grew about lead exposure, particularly in children. In 1971, The FDA asked manufacturers to voluntarily stop making tinsel out of the substance, although it was never outright banned, because the agency had no proof that lead tinsel constituted a health hazard.

Now, tinsel and Christmas trees, are much safer. Manufacturers make tinsel from plastic, usually polyvinyl chloride. Of course, this new tinsel doesn't hang as well as its silver, tin and lead counterparts, but in this day and age, it will have to do.

Although today's tinsel is relatively safe for humans, veterinarians still advise that it's dangerous for pets, especially if they ingest it, which they would probably try to do. So caution is recommended if you're using tinsel around animals.

[Photo Credit: Horia Varlan/Flickr]

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