The word confetti often conjures up the image of masses of tiny paper or foil shapes scattered on party tables or in greeting cards. Paired with New Year's Eve, it may mean long strings and paper shreds bursting from the end of noisemakers and dropping from popped balloons. But "confetti" paired with "wedding" inevitably reminds us of the traditional confetti-throwing ceremony: the time when guests line up to shower the departing bride and groom with confetti-even though actual paper confetti is rarely used for this tradition.
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Rice: The Original Confetti
Throwing rice at a newly married couple is one of the longest-standing wedding traditions that still exists today in something close to its original form. The tradition was established by the ancient Celts, who believed that showering the couple with rice would bring blessings and fertility to the marriage according to Cathy Ward, an expert on Celtic wedding traditions. The tradition lasted until the late 1980s when word got around that the rice thrown at weddings was killing birds, particularly pigeons. The rumour claimed that the uncooked rice expanded in the bird's stomach and caused it to rupture. Though untrue, this rumour led to the investigation of alternative materials for the tradition. Today, most churches and halls do not allow rice, but this is because it makes a huge mess, not because it kills the birds.
The English word confetti evolved from the Italian, where it means the candies and sweets traditionally thrown at the bride and groom at the end of the ceremony. While candy-tossing made a brief appearance as tradition in the United States, Americans quickly decided that sweets were for eating, not throwing. Paper confetti was first manufactured in about 1890 and immediately became a hit item for showering newly married couples. The problem, of course, is that it made a major mess, especially in outdoor areas that cannot simply be vacuumed. So while the throwing of paper confetti still occurs, most facilities and churches do not allow it and those that do charge a hefty cleanup fee. A few companies have begun offering biodegradable confetti for use in outdoor areas, but most venues still ban these products because they don't dissolve fast enough and must still be cleaned up before the next wedding or event.
Petals and Leaves: Nature's Confetti
Between the candy-chucking and paper-showering trends, tossing natural items like flower petals and leaves became popular, possibly in homage to a similar European tradition popular during the Renaissance. Petal tossing in the U.S. began with real plants, which was OK with the environmentalists and tolerable to the venues. But the expense and fragility of the petals inevitably led to the use of silk and other manufactured materials, which caused the same issues as paper confetti would later. Luxury wedding confetti still uses real petals (particularly rose petals), but it is quite expensive so most couples opt for a more affordable alternative.
Bird Seed: A Modern Confetti Alternative
Bird seed became a fashionable alternative to rice after the pigeon controversy. Like rice, birdseed may be tossed by the handful from communal receptacles, but is more often presented in individual packets for each guest. While many churches and reception halls discourage rice, most do allow birdseed because it is usually cleaned up by the area's feathered residents long before it becomes a nuisance. However, some locations ban even birdseed because of the liability involved in slip-and-fall accidents, so couples should check the specific facility rules.
Bubbles: The Fun of Confetti without the Mess
More and more modern weddings use bubbles for the traditional confetti-throwing event. Bubbles as confetti first became popular in the 1980s, but were controversial because the high soap content damaged plants, was bad for the environment and caused slippery messes on solid surfaces. Today's bubble formulas are greener, safe for the grass and far less slippery than the old formulas. Since there is no mess to clean up, most venues welcome bubbles. Favour-sized bottles of bubbles come in many shapes, including hearts. Couples can supplement with a bubble machine to create even more magic.
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