The Origins of Some of Our Favourite Holiday Innovations
There are so many holiday mainstays that we see around the festive season from Christmas trees, tinsel, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and many more. This also includes fireworks during New Year’s celebrations. Have you ever wondered how these innovations became such prominent features in our holiday traditions?
In today’s blog, we’ll be discussing the history of these artefacts. Let’s start with the history of the artificial Christmas tree. A patent for the artificial Christmas tree was granted to Willem Dieperink-Langereis on 16 March 19261. These trees have become a common feature on storefronts and in many homes during the festive season1. The inventor was also cognisant of the need to preserve our forests as he noted in the patent that these artificial trees would also serve as substitutes for natural trees, thus contributing to forest preservation1.
Another ubiquitous feature during the festive season is the tinsel that we drape around our Christmas trees. Tinsel is thought to have originated in Germany around 16102. Originally, tinsel was made of thin strips of materials extruded from real silver! This was of course too expensive and only wealthy people could afford entire garlands to drape their trees2. Eventually, cheaper materials that were aluminium-based were used to make tinsel2. By the early 20th century, millions of households could afford to drape their trees with garlands of tinsel2.
Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without the mention of Santa’s helper, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Initially, Rudolph wasn’t part of Santa’s sleigh-driving team, he is not even mentioned in early Christmas folklore2. Rudolph was created by copywriter Robert May who was tasked with making up a Christmas story that could be given to customers as part of a promotion for a department store2. May was inspired by stories such as “Ugly Duckling”. The story of Rudolph sold millions of copies in the 1940s. May managed to secure the copyright for the character and went on to produce a Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer cartoon and the ubiquitous bestselling song that we hear in malls every Christmas2.
Finally, a new year’s celebration wouldn’t be the same without fireworks. The history of fireworks is a long and illustrious one starting in China around 200 BC when someone tossed bamboo into a fire and unintentionally created the very first firecracker3. Fireworks still didn’t take off after this momentous event. This is until 800 AD when an alchemist was searching for immortality, and he mixed together chemicals that in fact created gunpowder! With the invention of gunpowder, engineers in later years were eventually able to develop fireworks3. Earlier fireworks were just plain orange3. It was in the 1830s when fireworks, as we know them today, were developed by Italian inventors. They used chemicals such as strontium for red colour, barium for green, copper for blue, and sodium for yellow4.
As you celebrate during this festive season, we hope you can appreciate the rich history of all the holiday mainstays that make this time of the year special to us. Season’s greetings from Tshaya Mashabela Attorneys!
Written by: Tumelo Mashabela, Managing Director and Registered Patent Attorney
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