Confetti brings together two pleasures from Italy – partying and celebrating.
Firstly, there is an old tradition of offering sweets such as almonds coated in white sugar at important occasions including weddings and births. Boccaccio mentions it in The Decameron in the 1350s and noble weddings served it in the 1400s. But the tradition really took off once sugar became common in Europe thanks to Italian inventors on the island of Madeira who made sugar available not only to the very, very wealthy. The Italian pleasure was also shared by Goethe, who experienced confetti at a Roman carnival.
Secondly, there is the pleasure of people in parades throwing things at the crowd such as fruit or eggs. This was quite expensive, so there needed to be an alternative – chalk balls, which looked like the confetti sweets, and then paper. The first time the word was actually used in English reflects exactly this transition. Mayne (a Scottish poet) wrote that much amusement at Italian festivals was to be found in throwing confetti, which he describes as “little balls the size of small marble”. Also, in Rome, Dickens describes a parade in which spectators standing at a window would “empty down great bags of confetti that descended like a cloud”.
This takes us directly to the first ticker tape parade in New York. It celebrated the arrival of the Statue of Liberty.
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