Sunday, July 04, 2010

Why Fireworks on the Fourth of July?

I've often wondered about the tradition on fireworks on the 4th of July. Our founding fathers (and mothers) would be pleased to know that we still love the flash of light and resounding noise of fireworks. John Adams had this mind as the way to commerate of this nation's independence. He wrote to his wife, Abigail on July 3,1776:

The day will be most memorable in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival…It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade…bonfires and illuminations (fireworks) from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forevermore.

So apparently even in 1776, people were setting off fireworks even before the Declaration was signed. I didn't know this until I finally decided to solve this mystery for myself. Almost everyone knows that fireworks originated in China, along with gunpowder. The Chinese took to using them primarily for the protective nature of the loud noise they made, to mark important events; births, deaths, marriages and the New Year. The loud noise would frighten away the evil spirits, protecting the celebrant.
Fireworks appreared on the European continent in the 13th century, most likely carried home by the early Crusaders. Fireworks became an element of religious festivals and of course, public entertainments. I mean, who doesn't thrill at fireworks. Even today they delight us, mesmerising us for a few seconds where we are instantly transported back into our childhoods.


The first recorded fireworks show in England was to celebrate the wedding of Henry VII in 1487. Subsequent monarchs had fireworks displays to mark their coronations, marriages ( wow...Henry VIII must have used up the nation's supplies!), military victories and birthdays. Queen Elizabeth I even had a court position, "Fire Master of England", she loved them so much.

Early English immigrants to the lands that eventually became the United States brought the fireworks tradition with them. Black powder with it's furiously boiling heavy smoke and loud retort was commonly found element of celebrations. Fireworks continued as a firmly established part of major celebrations in America. The first celebration of our independence was in 1777, six years before we had actually won that freedom.

We Americans have always been an optimistic lot.

In my family, we celebrate a birthday on this day too. The spirit, perseverance and dedication symbolized by Independence Day has been in her nature from the beginning. Coincidence? Probably not.

Happy Independence Day!