Times Square's Confetti Is Made Of People's Actual Dreams
Confetti rains down on New Year's Eve partygoers. (Photo by Yana Paskova/Getty Images)
When the clock strikes midnight and the ball drops on New Year's Eve, between 3,000 and 4,000 lbs. of confetti will rain down on the revelers packed into New York City's Times Square. It's an essential component of the festivities, but we take the confetti for granted. It turns out that it holds as many secrets and ambitions as every head that it hits and inevitably gets stuck on until the second week of January. Let's look at some of the behind-the-scenes facts about the shreds of paper that get dumped on the residents of New York City every year, including how you, too, can turn your hopes and dreams into Times Square's confetti.
Confetti may have started with the ancient Greeks. (britannica.com)
Why Do We Throw Confetti In The First Place?
Throwing confetti to celebrate momentous occasions is a very old tradition. In fact, it dates back as far as 2,500 years, when the ancient Greeks shredded leaves, flowers, and twigs to throw in the air when soldiers returned from war. Although its construction has changed over the years and the practice adopted a curiously Italian name, confetti remains a traditional demonstration of celebration.
Times Square's confetti is bigger than most. (pinterest.com)
Times Square's Confetti Is Bigger Than Normal Confetti
When you've encountered confetti in the course of everyday life, like at a wedding or surprise party, it was probably tiny scraps of paper, so small that you pity the person who's been saddled with cleanup duty. Times Square's confetti is not like that. It has to cover a much larger space than your run-of-the-mill confetti, so it's primarily made of nice, fluffy tissue paper and torn into much larger pieces.
Times Square's confetti is recyclable. (imgur.com)
The Confetti Is Environmentally Safe
The tissue paper used to make Times Square's confetti is made of recycled, biodegradable material, and the cleanup crew recycles as much of it as possible after the event is over. Otherwise, it wouldn't be long before the country's landfills looked deceptively festive.
A note with your wishes, hopes, or dreams can be part of Times Square's confetti. (timeout.com)
You Can Contribute To Time Square's Confetti
Its size and material isn't all that distinguishes Times Square's confetti from the kind you can get at your local party supply store. Mixed in with the standard-issue confetti are scraps of tissue paper on which New Yorkers have written their hopes for the new year.
Every year, the Times Square Alliance sets up a "Wishing Wall" on Seventh Avenue between 46th and 47th Street where passersby can write out their hopes and dreams on a small square of paper. Right before New Year's Eve, all the notes from the Wishing Wall are collected and distributed throughout the boxes of confetti. If you're in New York City at the right time, your wishes could sail through the air alongside more than 5,000 others when the clock strikes 12.
It takes about 100 people to throw Times Square's confetti. (nojoeschmo.com)
Times Square's Confetti Is Hand-Tossed
In our modern, technical world, you would think that the confetti that flutters down on Times Square at the stroke of midnight would be automated, but it is not. Rather than using confetti cannons to disperse the bits of paper, more than 100 people toss the confetti using nothing more advanced than their hands from the rooftops of eight buildings surrounding Times Square, including the New York Marriott Marquis Hotel.
Dropping confetti is a coordinated effort. (mashable.com)
There Is A Times Square Confetti Master
It takes some coordination and organization to get that many people to toss that much confetti all at the same time. The task of making sure that all the confetti falls at the right time and creates the desired effect is the responsibility of the Times Square confetti master, legendary balloon engineer Treb Heining. Using walkie talkies, Heining stays in contact with the 100 volunteers (or "confetti dispersal engineers") and gives the command to start tossing confetti about 20 seconds before the ball drops. That way, the first of the confetti reaches the partygoers as soon as the countdown hits zero.
The confetti throwers must adjust to the wind. (gothamist.com)
Confetti Is At The Mercy Of The Wind
It's harder than you might think to create an ideal confetti blizzard. Although Heining is an expert at designing such effects, it's ultimately (literally) out of his hands. The confetti dispersal engineers all have to work hard to get the nearly 4,000 lbs. of confetti thrown evenly into the air as quickly as possible, and a key part of the job is reading the wind to know which way to throw the confetti so that it floats down to the street below.
Thousands of pounds of confetti are cleaned up overnight. (nytimes.com)
Cleanup Is a Colossal Undertaking
When the New Year's partiers have all gone home and the iconic Times Square ball has been switched off, the square is left covered in millions of pieces of paper, and the job of sweeping it all up falls to the Sanitation Department of New York City. Throughout the night, a team of more than 250 sanitation employees work to remove all the confetti and trash left over from the party. After they clear more than 55 tons of trash and thousands of pounds of confetti, Times Square appears to have magically returned to its pre-party state by sunrise every January 1. Dismayingly, the same cannot be said for some partygoers.