Fireworks: UK vs. US

UK                                                                   US
-damp, cold                                                   -hot
-a few fireworks in the back yard          -have they stopped yet this year?
-a penny for the guy                                  -fundraising
-big bonfires                                                 -barbecues
-burning effigies                                          -barbecues
-winter coat and gloves                           -shorts and T-shirt
(and of course both places have plenty of organized public displays)

Yesterday was the 4th of July. Here in the US, that generally means fireworks. Lots and lots of them. In my neighborhood, the explosions started about 2 weeks ago with whistling noises, occasional  booms of things that sound too loud to be legal, and the on-and-off crackle of fire crackers at strange times of the day. However, all of that pales into insignificance compared to the sheer volume (both in quantity and noise) of fireworks that go off on the 4th itself.

The first time I spent July 4th in the US was when I visited here in 2005 or so with my husband when we were still dating. I was amazed by how many fireworks people set off. How could they keep going for so long? How much money did these people spend on fireworks? Didn’t they know it was dangerous to set these things off in the street? Of course, I promptly forgot all about it until we moved here in 2010. That year we had just had a very, very tall tree cut down and the whole of the back yard was covered in twigs, sawdust, and tree branches. 622049
Let’s just say we didn’t sleep so soundly that night, with a yard full of tinder and fireworks exploding all around.

This year, the July 4th temperature was 110F, and it has been a very dry year, so I’m very thankful that we didn’t have a tree situation this time. The whole notion of fireworks on a hot, hot day (and night  – they go on until at least midnight, without a single break, as though each house has coordinated things so as to maintain a constant stream of explosions) is very different from my experience of fireworks growing up. For most Brits (although perhaps less now than when I was younger) fireworks means November 5th. Guy Fawkes Night or Bonfire Night. It also means a high likelihood of a cold, damp, drizzly evening rather than scorching sunshine. As a kid, I didn’t think it was all that much fun to wait around getting freezing cold just to watch something that was over in 5 minutes. Having fireworks in the summer certainly makes sense from that point of view. Well done on the founding fathers for signing the declaration in July rather than November. Of course, we need to remember Mr. Fawkes, without whom November 5th would be forgotten. Sometimes when I was a kid, I’d see teenagers sitting outside shops with a stuffed pile of clothes, collecting a ‘penny for the guy’. I always wanted to give a penny, but my mum would tell me it ‘was begging and it’s not allowed.’

It looked fun though. That part appealed to me a lot more than the fireworks, although now I find it a bit strange to encourage kids to build effigies to burn later on a fire. Do kids still do that these days? Here in the US, fireworks are sold to raise money for various organizations. Where I live, I’ve passed firework stands raising money for a school, a fraternity, and a racing pigeon club (!).  I’m not a fan of allowing random people to set off fireworks in their own backyards, but it’s a way of raising money.

As a scaredy-cat child (I’ve written before about the fear instilled in me by various public service films I watched growing up), I was uncomfortable at the fireworks displays to which my parents took my sister and me a few times. At least twice, we went to displays at the village vicarage. There would be a giant bonfire with a guy on top and a small fireworks display. Of course my parents would want to get close enough to see, while I’d be convinced the bonfire would collapse, burning everyone within a mile-wide radius. I was once offered a sparkler. I declined. After all I’d seen the warnings on TV where a little girl picked up a spent sparkler and ended up with a giant bandage on her hand.

Now, I’m still not too keen to get anywhere near fireworks, but a nice, organized display can be pretty spectacular. fireworks

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