It’s Not the 4th of July Without Fireworks

image courtesy of npr.org

Independence Day is coming up, which means great food, the outdoors, family time, and – most of all – fireworks! Dazzling displays of fireworks are the biggest definers of July 4th celebrations for most Americans. But have you ever thought about why that is and where they came from? Most historians track fireworks back to a Chinese tradition that started as early as 200 B.C. According to legend, a Chinese cook accidentally spilled saltpeter into a fire with sulfur and charcoal, creating a loud noise and orange flash of light in the flame. Around 2000 years ago, it appears that Chinese alchemists began combining these elements of saltpeter, charcoal, sulfur, and other ingredients to create a substance similar to gunpowder, and then stuffing them into bamboo shoots and throwing them into a fire. This created an even louder explosive blast and brighter, orange flashes of light. It became a popular and traditional way of warding off evil spirits, and, to our advantage, marked the birth of the first fireworks.

By the 13th century, paper tubes had replaced bamboo stalks and fireworks were being used throughout Europe to commemorate military victories and enhance public celebrations.

It is thought that Captain John Smith was the one who introduced fireworks to the New World, its first fireworks display in Jamestown in 1608. However, the 4th of July fireworks tradition began in 1776 when John Adams wrote a letter to his wife the day before the Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence. In this letter, he predicted the role of fireworks in Independence Day celebrations: “The day will be most memorable in the history of America,” he predicted. “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 [a term for fireworks]…from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forevermore.”

Well, it looks like John Smith was right! The following year, and each subsequent one, fireworks have been ignited to mark the celebration of Independence Day and other nationally recognized events.

I know my Fourth of July won’t be the same without gorgeous bursting displays of fireworks. I love celebrating the 4th of July at the beach and watching how the fireworks are mirrored onto the water. Where is your favorite place to celebrate Independence Day?

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