Christmas 1953 (snap, crackle, sssssssssss)

Phyllis Nissila

My brothers and sisters and I were sharing (now funny) Christmas stories from our childhood. There were a few memories around that old lead-based tinsel we used to throw on the tree and sometimes munch on when Mom and Dad weren’t in the room. The oldest brother shared another use for the silvery stuff that may have very well been the actual start, at the tender age of five, of his career in the electrical engineering trade. It goes like this: 

By Greg Beveridge

train setThe comments about eating lead tinsel took my memory back to 1212 North 19th Street, Escanaba, Michigan, circa Christmas, 1953.  I can also confirm that the hazardous waste known as tree tinsel did taste pretty good, with no apparent side effects side effects side effects at least as far as I can tell…

And there was one additional benefit I must mention that may have been the start of my career in electrical engineering.

My first electric toy train was set up under the REAL (sap dripping, no flame retardant applied) evergreen tree in the living room.  A small piece of the lead tinsel fell across the train tracks, and I observed that electrical sparking and smoking happened when I ran the train.


Applying the logic of a five-year-old, I wondered what might happen if I took the train off the track and substituted a few dozen pieces of the conductive tinsel to create what may have been my first electrical experiment.  

After denuding the bottom foot or two of the tree of tinsel and carefully arranging the pieces across the tracks, it further occurred to me that I could maximize the experiment’s effect by unplugging the train transformer, setting the speed control all the way to “10” followed by jamming the AC plug into the wall socket.

What happened next might have been observed by my two younger siblings, but I do remember waiting until Mom and Dad had left the living room to conduct the experiment.  

Upon jamming the plug into the wall socket, I observed a bright distributed flash of light in the shape of a train track as all the tinsel disappeared: snap! crackle! ssssssssssssssss!.  

To my kid delight and horror at the same time, the tinsel turned into a cloud of smoke… and our home smelled like ozone for at least two days.  

Among many blessings in my life, I count possible Divine Intervention that somehow prevented my setting fire to the sap-laden fire-wick otherwise known as a Christmas tree…


Indeed, it all started there, and, fortunately, no harm harm harm was done (as far as we can tell)…

Image from the public domain
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2 Responses to Christmas 1953 (snap, crackle, sssssssssss)

  1. Cathy says:


    All, I know, is I kept burning my finger-tips on, the “Old Fashioned HOT Lights!”

    NEVER to Learn, my mistake!
    The Lust OF THE EYES gone awry!!!


    • pnissila says:

      Hi, Cathy, and Merry Christmas to you and yours!!

      Yeah…those lights…it’s still a wonder we didn’t burn down more houses with all that stuff. But it was certainly MUCH safer than the REAL candles people put on their trees in earlier days!!

      The lust of the eyes and the slowness of the brain? 😉



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