Fireworks – The Wrong Message

Blog #163- 7/4/23

By Richard Davis

I have always felt uneasy watching fireworks displays to celebrate a holiday or a special event. The only reason I have gone to these events is because people close to me enjoyed them. Standing at a spot to view the aerial artistry has made me feel like I am in the middle of a war zone and that is not the way I want to feel participating in a celebration.

I can understand why people love the display of pyrotechnics. The people who put these show on are highly accomplished artisans and it is a tradition that has been with us for thousands of years.

According to the web site 75APA, “Many historians believe that fireworks originally were developed in the second century B.C. in ancient Liuyang, China. It is believed that the first natural “firecrackers” were bamboo stalks that when thrown in a fire, would explode with a bang because of the overheating of the hollow air pockets in the bamboo. The Chinese believed these natural “firecrackers” would ward off evil spirits.

Sometime during the period 600-900 AD, legend has it that a Chinese alchemist mixed potassium nitrate, sulfur and charcoal to produce a black, flaky powder – the first “gunpowder”. This powder was poured into hollowed out bamboo sticks (and later stiff paper tubes) forming the first man made fireworks.

Fireworks made their way to Europe in the 13th century and by the 15th century they were widely used for religious festivals and public entertainment. The Italians were the first Europeans to manufacture fireworks and European rulers were especially fond of the use of fireworks to “enchant their subjects and illuminate their castles on important occasions.”

In this country one source I found noted that, “Legend has it that Captain John Smith set off the first fireworks display in the American colonies in Jamestown, Virginia in 1608. He and other settlers used the fireworks to celebrate special events. Fireworks were used in the very first 4th of July celebration in 1776.”

So that’s the history. The world will always be bathed in wars and violence but I would hope that at some point we stop embracing the symbols of violence. Fireworks are a proxy for guns and cannons. This country was created by colonists who used violence and firepower to overtake the people who had lived on this land for centuries.

When the first celebration of independence from England happened in 1776 the world was a different place. The white conquerors felt they had done the right thing breaking away from King George and subjugating the indigenous people of this continent.

Do we need to continue to acknowledge American conquests forever by using explosive devices to remind us of the violence we used to establish this country? I think not. We should move on.

What is a more kinder and gentler way to celebrate important events? To my way of thinking we should replace fireworks with musical concerts. Music of all kinds. Why not have the federal and local governments commission compositions to be played on the Fourth of July to mark where we are now, or hope to be, instead of where we have been.

Think about the grand celebration in Boston on the banks of the Charles River on July 4th. It is a spectacle that starts out with festive music but then turns violent at the end when the Boston Pops plays the 1812 Overture and cannons are fired and fireworks are shot off over the river.

We have paid enough allegiance to history and we need to create a new model if we want to make the world a better place. This country is in the midst of a plague of gun violence and fireworks displays send the wrong message during these troubled times.

My hope is that the Boston Pops eliminate the ritual of the 1812 Overture and stick to music. It is what they do best and it will pave the way for a kinder, gentler society.

Comments | 1

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    It might also be the other way around – why are we using flowery explosives meant for celebrations to kill people? : )

    It does seem more and more like the 4th is the ‘Day to Frighten Animals’

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