Ringing in the New Year With a Confetti Collector - Atlas Obscura
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Ringing in the New Year With a Confetti Collector

3, 2, 1, little bits of paper!

A festive collection.
A festive collection. Emily Anne Epstein

As the clock strikes midnight, ushering in January 1, the crowds packed into New York City’s Times Square are covered with a blizzard of confetti. Around one ton of the stuff dances toward the street, and many of the scraps are unique: In the month leading up to the revelry, passersby have been invited to scrawl wishes on the fluttering fragments, either in person or online. The festive flurries will twirl through the air and then gather on the street, like neon snowdrifts.

Shivering merrymakers wait hours for the big moment. Jennifer Rice isn’t among them.

Rice usually spends New Year’s Eve warm and cozy at home, she says—but surrounded by her collection of vintage confetti. Some highlights are now on view at the City Reliquary museum in Brooklyn.

Rice's loot, on view at the City Reliquary.
Rice’s loot, on view at the City Reliquary. Emily Anne Epstein

Rice’s passion for the little specks was kindled when she read an article about restoring the Rainbow Room, a venue on the 65th floor of 30 Rockefeller Plaza in the heart of midtown Manhattan. The landmarked space first opened to upper-class tipplers in 1934, and ran on and off until 2009. After a five-year closure, it reopened in 2014, with a new look. Many accounts of the renovation mentioned that crews had excavated decades-old confetti from beneath the dance floor.

Rice wasn’t sure whether the story was true, but she found it charming. How had something so flimsy, predestined to be swept into a dustbin and unceremoniously heaped into the trash, managed to survive under there? “I thought that was so exciting,” she says, “that something meant to be thrown away escaped.”

Lovebirds love confetti, too.
Lovebirds love confetti, too. Emily Anne Epstein

Confetti has a long history stretching back centuries in France and Italy, where well-wishers pelted each other with fistfuls of colorful, candy-coated almonds. By the late 1800s, handfuls of tossed candy and plaster gave way to bits of paper, which were less likely to stab someone in the eye.

The exhibition also includes ephemera about confetti's long history at events like Carnaval in Nice.
The exhibition also includes ephemera about confetti’s long history at events like Carnaval in Nice. Emily Anne Epstein

Rice’s collection is more recent, spanning 1920 to 1970. So far, she has about 50 objects, which she finds on eBay, Etsy, and vintage sales, including the sprawling Brimfield flea market in Massachusetts.*

Some of the confetti is intended to be dropped on cookies, not crowds.
Some of the confetti is intended to be dropped on cookies, not crowds. Emily Anne Epstein

Her haul ranges from a roll of paper confetti to mod plastic shoes sprinkled with a confetti pattern. Many items are some version of little circles and squares in their original cardboard packaging.

Rice's collection includes accessories, too.
Rice’s collection includes accessories, too. Emily Anne Epstein

At home, Rice keeps much of her collection on a shelf in her kitchen. To keep it safe from her three cats, who could knock it into the sink, she stores some in jars, and also buys multiples of the same packs if she can. Multiples also allow her to crack some of the packages open to reveal the contents. “I definitely don’t want to empty them completely,” she says.

Some for now, some for later.
Some for now, some for later. Emily Anne Epstein

Rice knows that it takes a whole crew to make it rain confetti in Times Square. In recent years, more than 100 people have worked in tandem to fling bits of paper down from rooftops, tossing it in unison when they hear the phrase, “Go confetti.” The crew members are dubbed “confetti dispersal engineers,” and their ringleader is Treb Heining, who has been helming the drop for more than 25 years and has also masterminded paper blizzards at the Super Bowl, Olympics, and Academy Awards. The positions are coveted gigs, and Rice hasn’t been able to score one. She’ll toast the New Year surrounded by confetti, but would jump at the chance to be one of Heining’s elves. “It would be a dream if he was like, ‘Want to join me?’” she says. For someone so charmed by festive scraps, there’s maybe no place more magical than a cold, windy rooftop overlooking the crowd waiting below.

*Correction: This article originally started that the Brimfield flea market takes place in Texas. It takes place in Massachusetts.