In the mid-20th century, Christmas trees weren't needle-laden conifers that represented a bit of nature right in your living room, but a plantlike form encased in an aluminum shell.
Tinsel dates back to 17th century Germany, when little strands of silver were used to make trees sparkle from the light of flickering candles attached to it. Covering a tree with silver wasn't the cheapest decorating solution in the world, so tinsel was usually reserved for folks with enough coin to throw away precious metals every year.
That all changed as cheaper materials were introduced in the early 20th century. The good news was that boxes of tinsel became ubiquitous and could turn any tree into a sparkling crystal centerpiece. The bad news? Some of that tinsel was
aluminum mixed with lead
that helped it hang better on tree branches, but also exposed generations of children to lead poisoning and brain defects.
The aluminized paper that followed was slightly safer and far more ubiquitous, but had the nasty habit of catching fire when it came into contact with the high-wattage C6 lights of the time. By the time the tinsel formula switched to the far less flammable polyvinyl chloride, tastes had changed and a buying public tired of constant hazards such as poisoning, fire and pet intestinal blockage had moved on. Though still used in some homes today, tinsel has become as obscure of a shimmery holiday item as one of its mid-century contemporaries ...