A large thump, and a small circle light object rises quickly into the sky. What happens next can either inspire shock and awe, or scare you enough to cover your ears and hide your face. An explosion as loud as a cannon, filled with many different colors, and so large that if seems to fill the night sky, will take the breath away from a first time viewer. What are these terrifying denotations? Devices used to ward off evil spirits…known today as fireworks.
The history of fireworks is not entirely set in stone, as there is much debate over the specific year and inventor. It is generally agreed, however, that fireworks were created in China some 2,000 years ago, with firecrackers being developed during the Song Dynasty. (960-12790) The prevalent legend states that a Chinese cook accidentally mixed charcoal, sulphur, and saltpeter (common fireworks ingredients) and it exploded. During this time, fireworks were not thought of as entertainment, rather as a way to ward off evil spirits with their loud sounds. Much of the focus of fireworks today is on the bright colors, but loud noise, known in Chinese as “gung pow” was desirable in a religious firework.
By the 15th century, fireworks were a common part of celebrations, including military victories and weddings. Fireworks did not simply remain a secret in China, however. Marco Polo was the first to bring fireworks to Europe in the 13th century, with Germany becoming the leading producer. Queen Elizabeth I was so interested in fireworks that she created a position in her court called the “Fire Master of England”. The United States was introduced to fireworks in the 1500’s.
Today fireworks in China continue to be a major part in all of their celebrations. The
Shanghai International Music Fireworks Festival is an event organized around National Day. It mixes the rhythm, color, and composition of the fireworks with music created specifically for the show that year. No other celebration, however, can come close in its fireworks display than the Chinese National Day, held on the first day of October each year since 1949. It is a day filled with celebrations across mainland China, and has an amazing fireworks show, mixed with dancing and other festivities, put on by the government. Here is a video of the celebration on the 60th Anniversary of National Day.
The Chinese invention of fireworks began as a way to ward of evil spirits, but has since been a form of entertainment that was swept the world. My first time being introduced to
fireworks as a young kid, I bawled my eyes out and hid my head in my parents laps. Its a normal reaction for a ton of kids. My first comment when it was all over: “Mom can we go see them again??” Its hilarious that while they may be scary and loud, the brillant colors make them worthy of being seen over and over again. Fireworks are something that can be shared across all cultural lines and boundaries because they contain no words, simply artistic colors and loud bangs.