Melanie McDonagh Melanie McDonagh

What’s the point of confetti?

[Getty Images]

All things considered, probably the least of George Osborne’s concerns on the occasion of his second marriage was being showered with orange confetti by a woman apparently sympathetic to the Just Stop Oil protestors. Bingo: a whole new form of protest came into being.

What is the whole confetti thing about anyway? You used to be able to tell if there’d been a wedding at a church by the amount of pastel-coloured horseshoe and bell shapes ground into the pavement outside. It was sold in boxes decorated with wedding motifs. Nowadays, no eco-chic guest would throw paper confetti; dried flower petals are the way to go, available in tasteful cones and a useful way of recycling dead flowers. (Really, the protestor should just have thrown marigolds.) The Victorians might have lobbed rice instead.

The roots of the custom lie with the Romans, and probably further back, with the sparsiones, or shower, that was customary at funerals as well as weddings. But in that case stuff was thrown at the crowd by the happy couple as well as at them. 

Virgil, in his ‘Eclogues’, tells bridegrooms to ‘scatter nuts’, which he meant literally. Hugh Nibley observed in the Classical Journal that ‘bride and groom could no more evade the obligation of scattering presents to the populace than they could avoid the meal [grains] that the populace threw at them’. Among the things people might scramble for were bits of hawthorn branches for luck – think of the throwing of the bride’s bouquet today. And grains or beans signified fertility.

It’s all designed to mark a wedding as a public event, something for everyone to share in. Not much different then from the Italian wedding described in Charles Dickens’s journal Household Words, where: ‘The bride appeared; there was a merry shout.

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