Andrea/Cara here, festooned in red, white and blue for America’s grand birthday party celebration today. And for all of you in other countries around the globe, come party with us! You’re invited to come to share in the hot dogs, hamburgers, blueberries, strawberries and whipped cream that are among the traditional picnic favorites served across our country.
Another grand tradition of the day is fireworks—no Fourth of July would be complete without the spectacular bursts of bright colors and loud bands lighting up the night sky. (Quite fitting, I suppose, since creating our country demanded that we set off a few sparks!) It’s interesting to note that John Adams, one of our Founding Fathers, wrote a letter on July 4th, 1776—our Declaration of Independence day—in which he predicted that future celebrations would include pyrotechnics. (I don’t think we’ve disappointed him!)
“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 …from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forevermore.”
And since you all know how much we love history here at the Word Wenches, I couldn't resist doing a little research on the history of fireworks—and here are a few highlights. Celebrating grand events with fireworks goes back centuries, to around 600 AD in China, when the fortuitous combination of saltpeter, charcoal and sulfur (likely the result of a kitchen accident) first created the basic formula for gunpowder. Known as “firedrug” some of its early uses included being packed in bamboo cylinders and thrown into the fire to ward off evil spirits.
Gunpowder went on to have far more bellicose uses, of course, but the use of fireworks in ceremonial celebrations—battle victories, coronations, milestone anniversaries—has become a tradition in all parts of the globe. Here are a few more fun facts from its glorious history!
• In medieval England, explosive specialists were called Fire Masters, and their assistants were called “green men” because they worn hats made of leaves to protect their heads.
• In Renaissance Italy, pyrotechnics was viewed as an art (but of course!) and there were schools to train masters to create elaborate displays.
• Fireworks became very popular among European rulers as a way to entertain their subjects—and emphasis their own grandeur. The first recorded display in England was on Henry VII’s wedding day in 1486. In France, Versailles was the site of many spectacular illuminations, while in Russia, Tsar Peter the Great staged a display that last over five hours to celebrate the birth of his son.
• Legend has it that Captain John Smith set off he first display of pyrotechnics in America at Jamestown in 1608. And in 1731, the colonists of Rhode Island apparently became so rowdy with setting off bangs (hmm, do you think a wee dram of alcohol may have been involved?) that the authorities passed a law banning the “mischievous use of pyrotechnics.”
I love fireworks! (History definitely shows that the colors and the noise clearly appeals to some sort of primitive love of fire in our brains.) How about you? Do you enjoy watching fireworks? Have you a favorite event to attend? The best display I’ve ever seen have been the marvelous NYC 4th of July extravaganza over the east River. It’s absolutely spectacular, especially when seen from the Queens side with the NYC skyline in the background. I’ll be watching it tonight, though unfortunately this year it will just be on TV. Happy Birthday, America!