Tinsel was first used in Germany in 1610. However, it wasn’t the shiny plastic stuff we get these days; it was made from shredded silver. At first the silver was hammered so that it was thin, and then cut into thin strips, a few years later machines were invented for this purpose. The inventor of tinsel remains unknown.
Soon it was embraced as a standard Christmas component along with ornaments and electric lights. It became so popular in the 1950s and ‘60s that tinsel is often thought of as a mid-century fad rather than a tradition that’s been around as long as Christmas trees themselves.
Before the 19th century, tinsel was used for adorning sculptures rather than Christmas trees. It was added to Christmas trees to enhance the flickering of the candles on the tree.