Floral Fire

Billboard ranks “Firework” as Katy Perry’s best-selling single, with millions of downloads since its 2010 release. The self-empowerment tune “skyrocketed” to #1 on Billboard’s Top 100 at the time and ranked in the top five on twenty other charts worldwide. “Firework” also “sparked” an award-winning music video, and Katy has since performed the anthem live at two presidential inaugurations and during the halftime show of the Super Bowl.  Searching Wikipedia for “firework”, therefore, it comes as no surprise to be asked, “Do you mean the song or the low-explosive pyrotechnic device?” Today, I choose the latter.

For the first time in countless July 4th celebrations I can’t speak to having seen a single overhead firework display this year. No giant “willows” with their graceful descending trails of sparks; no “peonies” where those same trails radiate in straight lines from the center; and no “horsetails” (my favorite) where each trail bursts a second time, followed by a crackling, glittering shower of fire.  Also, no “grand finale” where it looks like the entire sky is splitting open to some fiery furnace beyond.

“Chrysanthemums”

From the vantage point of our house, we used to count on the fireworks show from the nearby U.S. Air Force Academy. That show has been canceled for the last ten years because of budget cutbacks.  We also used to bring blankets to the shore of a nearby lake, where we were treated to a “small-town” fireworks display funded by donations from the public.  Today, that display has been swallowed up by a bigger all-day “Festival on the Fourth”, where you pay for parking and walk a mile or two just to secure a spot on the lake several hours ahead of the fireworks.  Even so, we thought we’d see bits and bursts from one of the other nine shows scattered around nearby Colorado Springs.  Nope, not so much as a snap, crackle, or pop.

Palmer Lake, CO 2022 fireworks display (photo courtesy of local resident Bartley Willson)

Fireworks are nostalgic for me, with two distinct memories from childhood.  The first, in the 1970s, brings me back to the beach of the Pacific Ocean in Los Angeles.  Back then the only commercial displays seemed to be over the ocean.  My parents would grab a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken and several blankets, and the whole family would find a place on the beach where for several hours, we’d eat and play as twilight became dark, in anticipation of the late, late fireworks show from the end of the nearby pier.

The second memory, a decade later, also brings me to the Pacific Ocean but to a beach further south near San Diego, where we’d shoot off our own fireworks (from the “Safe and Sane” boxed collections my dad brought home every year), followed by an overhead display from the nearby county fair.  Every childhood July 4th was the same: food, fun, and fireworks; lots and lots of fireworks.

“Waterfall”

In 1976 – America’s bicentennial year – the firework display in New York City included an unforgettable “waterfall” effect off one of the bridges.  This year, that same July 4th display (sponsored by Macy’s) ballooned to a two-hour televised extravaganza with over 2,000 blasts and effects per minute.  I’d say Macy’s department stores and their profit margins are doing just fine, wouldn’t you?

I shouldn’t be surprised to learn fireworks were invented by the Chinese (well over a thousand years ago) but here’s a less-obvious bit of floral fire trivia: Disney is the largest consumer of fireworks in the world.  It used to be – back when their single amusement park was California’s “Disneyland” – you’d only catch a Disney firework show on summer evenings (directly above Cinderella’s castle), and only if you stayed until just before the park closed.  Today you’ll find displays at any one of the twelve Disney parks, in any month of the year.  For the record, only the U.S. Department of Defense purchases more explosive devices than Disney.

There’s more firework trivia, of course.  The very first iterations were empty bamboo shoots, creating a mild popping sound when ignited because of natural air pockets.  Seeking more pyrotechnics, the Chinese added explosive chemicals to the shoots to create firecrackers”.  Eventually they figured out how to launch and propel their creations, and the overhead fireworks display was born, in an impressive rainbow of chemical colors. But take note; you won’t see a blue firework very often.  Blue requires an infusion of copper at just the right temperature, and the “cool” color tends to get lost next to the “hotter” reds and yellows.

“Catherine wheels”

I’m still puzzled why I didn’t hear so much as a “BOOM! BOOM! BOOM” aftershock (to quote Katy Perry) of a firework display this year.  Maybe most of my fellow Coloradoans kept the bursts and blasts to the ground instead, from what they purchased at the local firework stand. Those of you living in New Jersey, Massachusetts, or Delaware can’t relate because consumer fireworks are illegal in your states.  Not so much as a sparkler in your hand. (Which may be a good thing since sparklers can heat up to 2000 ºF)  So you probably did what I did this year – simply watch a recap of the Washington D.C. grand finale on your smartphone.  It was the only floral fire I could find.

Some content sourced from the BuzzFeed article, “17 Things You Probably Never Knew About Fireworks”, the Macy’s Fourth of July Fireworks website, and Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.

20 thoughts on “Floral Fire

    1. I wonder who pays for those school-grounds shows, Neil. Since the federal government slashed the fireworks from the Air Force Academy budget, we depend on the small-town lake display instead, which only happens if the public donates enough in a given year.

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  1. I did hear the “BOOM! BOOM! BOOM” (to quote Katy Perry) off somewhere in the distance, but like you I didn’t see a single flicker of fireworks spark. It was a combination of the heat for one, and the single large crowd they made out of what once was numerous neighborhood displays. Just not fun anymore.

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    1. I think firework displays are lower in the sky these days (at least in Colorado) for fear of fire. Several of my neighbors complained about not being able to see the nearby displays this year, when they’d been able to in the past. Or maybe it’s a strategy to get you to pay-to-park, pay-to-see. Nope, not interested.

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  2. I watched some neighbourhood fireworks for Canada Day July 1 from the back deck and got four nasty mosquito bites which turned into itchy red welts and 3 days of misery along with my enjoyment! I heard lots of booming going off, including from across the border on July 4th as I live near the river. When I was a kid we always got the same fireworks box, with the same assortment in it, including sparklers (my favorite) and at the end The Burning Schoolhouse, which wasn’t a really a rocket but a cardboard box that just kind of fizzled and burnt down. It was a symbolic thing that school was out. I just googled and it was a Canadian thing, and they still sell them.

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    1. “The Burning Schoolhouse” – that’s a new one on me, Joni. Love the symbolism! I could’ve written another post about the fireworks box alone – sparklers, shrill-sounding cones, pinwheels. They also had these odd little guys called “snakes”, which looked like bits of licorice but when lit expanded into several feet of ash looking like snakes. So much fun in one box!

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  3. We were able to see the Macy’s fireworks from our apartment this year. It was the first time we’ve been in town for them. There’s a fancy bar on the top floor of our building and they were charging $125 to be up there for the show, and that doesn’t even include any drinks! Needless to say we didn’t buy any tickets.

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    1. It’s either “American” or “Un-American” to charge so much to see something you could likely see for free at street level. The other half lives well, even in today’s challenging economic times 🙂

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      1. We pay enough for rent, you’d think they’d let the residents have at least a discount.. but we saved 250 bucks watching the show 20 floors below 😂 it was nice being in the comfort of our own apt, very efficient too. Just had to walk 10 steps to the window.

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  4. Sorry for you that you’ve been missing out on your beloved fireworks. Because we have a little one who was literally asking to be put to bed, I stayed home while he slept and hubby took the other kids to watch fireworks from a nearby park. He did send me video though. Not the same, but it was something.
    Fun trivia too. 🙂

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  5. My wife and I made no effort this year to see fireworks – either in person or on TV. Not that I don’t like them, but the effort just seemed too much. Also a lot of the local shows were canceled due to high winds and drought conditions. They did try to put up a drone laser light show over Lake Tahoe, but the winds where too high so that got grounded. sad

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    1. My newsfeed echoed your comment just this morning, Andrew, saying many shows were canceled this year due to the drought in the West, and an estimated 30% of fires on July 4th are tied to fireworks. We’re gettting monsoon-like conditions here in Colorado the last week or two, almost the summer pattern of afternoon rain we used to get years and years ago. We’ll take it, even if it means no fireworks.

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  6. Dave – well you were lucky as I only had sparklers as a kid growing up in Canada and I don’t recall any fireworks shows that I watched until I moved to the U.S. when I was ten years old. Our former governor passed a law allowing large fireworks to enable Michigan to get the revenue from sales that previously went to Ohio, since so many people just crossed the state line to get their fireworks fix. However, if you’ll pardon the pun, his plan backfired as people buy and shoot off fireworks every weekend from Memorial Day through Labor Day. Half the people detest them; the other half love them. It causes a lot of consternation on local social media as people say their dogs cower and even jump the fence and are lost over the 4th of July weekend (when there are the most fireworks)and veterans cringe with the sound with each pop. I like how you detail the fireworks’ names and what type of effect they give. I’ve only been to one fireworks show before.

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    1. Our dog ran away one year during a July 4th celebration on that beach north of San Diego. We were lucky in that she had a tag and sought comfort with a family honest enough to alert us the next morning. So I empathize with anyone who discourages the big shows because of pets. And of course, those who say fireworks create an elevated wildfire threat (they do; the statistics don’t lie), which seems to be a more recent concern than when I was a kid. Otherwise, fireworks are a happy memory. I think it was better when they only made an appearance on July 4th instead of diluted by the shows at Disney parks, Super Bowls, concerts, etc.

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      1. Your dog (and family) were lucky to be reunited. There are dogs lost every year now in our neighborhoods due to neighborhood fireworks shows. Yes it was a bigger deal to look forward to a once-a-year extravaganza. Here we have the International Freedom Festival Fireworks show which celebrates our 4th of July and Canada’s 1st of July. The fireworks are shot from a barge on the Detroit River. There’s quite a crowd but they broadcast them online and on TV so I’ve watched them that way.

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  7. Fireworks were an “every few years” think in my youth. When our kids were young we would buy a fairly impressive box of fireworks to light off in the yard, and then our neighborhood was built next to a country club that set off a nice display for many years – most of the good ones would clear the trees between our house and the club.

    We went to the fireworks one year in DC – they have the oddest custom, with traffic stopping and parking on the GW expressway and everyone walks towards the river bank. Afterwards we all walk back to our cars and wait for traffic to start moving again.

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    1. Your experience with the DC fireworks reminds me of the annual graduation ceremonies at the Air Force Academy here in Colorado Springs. The Thunderbirds buzz the stadium beforehand which brings the nearby interstate to a halt. In recent years they’ve blocked off adjacent areas so cars can’t stop.

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