Tinsel Town

A woman at work in a tinsel factory. Where do I sign up?

You must have realized by now that I love anything that glitters, and, at this time of year, that means tinsel. Appropriately enough, the word itself comes from the old French estincele, ‘to spark,’ and the even older Latin, scintilla (spark). The French, naturally, are credited with discovering tinsel in the 15th century, taking copper wire as fine as a strand of hair and flattening it to use in to decorate soldiers costumes. In churches from Germany through Europe and to India, tinsel decorated religious icons. But it always carried with it a tawdry reputation. The Indian poet Ramprasad Sen (1718-1775) wrote, “The goddess who adorns the world with gold and gems—shame to you who want to adorn that mother with wire and tinsel.” Likewise, proper tourists in the 19th and 20th century clucked their way through European churches, which they found gaudy.

But I was thrilled to come across this defense of tinsel, and of all frippery, written in 1928 by British journalist Sisley Huddleston (1883-1952):

“Tinsel is the only ware, Shakespeare might have said…..There is for me a real romance in these gilded, gaudy, gingerbread ornaments. They are finery and frippery touched with pathos. We will not desdain the gewgaws, for they too are tokens of human desires and human vanities—that is to say, of human poetry….All the world in the last resort loves the fiddle-faddle, the fingle-fangle, the farcical and the finical. All the world is happy with catchpenny things.”

Have a fingle-fangle day!