Do me a favor and imagine that you are in need of suggestions for a Fourth of July party. You head to Pinterest (where else?) and search “Fourth of July.” You are blinded by a barrage of red, white, and blue. On the screen are colored pretzels stacked into a replica of the American flag; painted mason jars (lots of mason jars); twine; tin cans; stars lovingly painted in water soluble paint on the grass. But here’s the thing. Fireworks are so much more important than any of these crafts or decorations.
Here’s why I think so.
1. They are above you.
Of course, I’m not talking about snap pops, black cats, m-80s, or even those cool little paper cars that gush sparks, travel four feet, and then burn to death in a microblaze reminiscent of a 1970s action film.
I am talking about the ones that explode up there, the ones you have to tilt your head back to see. That the fireworks explode in the night sky is important because the very act of looking up immediately takes you out of the mundanity that the rest of the holiday will surely deliver – the planning, the decorating, the complications. No more overflowing trashcan with wing sauce-smeared cocktail napkins. No more ordinary stuff.
At the heart of the Fourth of July is a spirit of independence that is, actually, a big deal. When your eyes are on what’s going on at ground level, it can be hard to realize how big a deal ideas like independence and sacrifice are. Once your attention is arrested by the spectacle of fireworks happening up there in the sky, you’re taken out of the everyday and able to reflect on these things, which is important, I think.
2. They are glorious.
“And the rockets’ red glare/ The bombs bursting in air,” goes the song. Did you know that the word “rocket,” in the sense of the combustion-fueled projectile, dates all the way back to 1566? The Oxford English Dictionary notes that rockets have historically been “used for signalling, in maritime rescue, for entertainment, and as a weapon.” Fireworks symbolize communication, violence, and entertainment: A strangely fitting mix for the complex human heart.
The red glare of the rockets in “The Star-Spangled Banner” refers to the bombardment of Fort McHenry in the War of 1812. That the fort was not taken during the battle is indeed glorious, and fireworks are a reminder of the fortitude of the people who fought and suffered to keep America independent in 1776 and again in 1812. Boom. (Literally: boom!)
3. They are beautiful.
Whether you are a person of science or religion, fireworks inspire an appreciation of beauty. Sure, fireworks might be man made, but light certainly isn’t. There is drama in witnessing rockets that, upon reaching the apex of their flight, explode into falling sparks of light. It just stirs something in you. I think it makes you feel part of something immense. Did the beginning of the universe look a little something like this?
So, those are my three reasons that fireworks are the most important part of any holiday festivity: They happen above you; they are glorious; and they are beautiful. I think these are pretty good reasons for making sure you see some fireworks this Fourth of July.
Take a moment out of the hectic festivities to reflect on the spirit of rebellion, creativity, and inspiration that is involved in claiming and defending independence from parties eager to exploit the vulnerable. This is about more than just us. This unites us across time and space. Fireworks reflect the beauty of standing together for what is right, even when it hurts.