Submitted by Susanne Bacon
It’s this time of year again – Independence Day firework sales are soon beginning everywhere. Wait, not everywhere – only on native American reservations. And possession is restricted as well. I’m not entirely bewildered by the concept. In my German past, there were restrictions as well.
Fireworks in Germany are also associated with big events, of course. Like a town fest – or one dedicated to fireworks as the Lichterfest (pronounce: ‘leeh-tuh-fest, meaning festival of lights) in my hometown. The biggest firework occasion nationwide in Germany that comes to mind is New Year’s Eve, by the way. The sale of fireworks starts three business days before the turning of the year. That’s it. As a retailer you have to inform a communal office, and you can only sell specifically certified firework. Even gas stations may sell some – it may seem strange, but they sell lighters, too, after all. Supermarkets offer huge boxes of colorful rockets and ground firework. Kids under 18 are not supposed to buy any, but I’m not sure how strictly that is controlled. And you are only permitted to set it off on New Year’s Eve and the day after. That’s it. I guess all the restrictions are one of the reasons why German New Year’s Eve fireworks are so intense and long. The last one I experienced in 2009 began around 10 pm, peaked at midnight with an hour of extreme display, and petered out at around 3 am. It was mind-blowing, and since then I have never seen the like again.
Over here, firework alleys open in the remote areas of reservations quite a while before the Fourth of July – so-called alleys that consist of booths, often including a few stalls with food and beverages. It’s a colorful display of basically one item in countless variations. It’s bewildering. And you have to figure whether you are even supposed to posses any firework before you purchase. In our former home, there were stiff penalties even for just storing fireworks. Now we are living in a more lenient area, but we realize why it’s so important to have a hose in the immediate vicinity of one’s firework event, too. A few years ago, in our neighborhood a dry lawn went up in flames, and it was just lucky that everybody was outside on that summer night. Because there was no hose nearby, and we had to build a bucket brigade. The then empty house on that property never was in real danger, but the lawn, blackened and extinct, spoke its own language for the rest of that summer.
My first Fourth of July firework was a gorgeous one, if it only lasted about 20 minutes. Its organizers obviously had destined each and every rocket to be appreciated – and you were able see the last fading of one before the next one went up, coloring the waters of the Sound with spectacular reflections. I loved that it was paced so slowly. It was hugely enjoyable. But it was over way too soon, too.
Well, last year, we went off to the Pacific coast for New Year’s Eve. We had packed a load of fireworks. And we set out to the beach an hour before midnight. It was really chilly. And there was some wind. The beach was nearly empty, except for some other people with the same idea. As we set off our little fireworks (and before you can ask – we always clean up afterwards!), we saw the colorful blinking of ships out at the horizon. It made me think about all those who had to work that night instead of celebrating with their families. Of all those who had to observe GPSs and radars and tend to business instead of enjoying fireworks and maybe a glass of champagne. And I wondered what they would see of our small, scattered fireworks on the beach at all. The year before last, by the way, we simply slept through New Year’s Eve. There is so little New Year’s firework to be worth watching here. Maybe it’s because there are two public annual firework events, not just one single big one as in my mother country.
I love to watch fireworks, though I absolutely dislike their sound. There are silent fireworks available these days, and I hope they become more common sometime. I don’t get it that some people just set off these extreme booming explosives. It makes me wonder about how it messes with all those who ever went to war. And I definitely feel for all the animals, domesticated and wild, who must be out of their minds during these nights. Yes, I’m torn about fireworks, too. But in the end, you might find me tear up at an especially beautiful rocket that fills the sky with a blowball, streams down in lavalike cascades, and finishes off with a rain of glittering sparkles.