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Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Freedom And Fireworks by Sarah J. McNeal

FIREWORKS by Sarah J. McNeal

Here it is, July first, and soon we’ll be celebrating our Independence Day here in the United States of America—and we’ll be doing it will style, flash, and good eats. It’s the American way. One of my greatest joys on the 4th of July is the fireworks. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I love the fried chicken, hot dogs, watermelon and roasted marshmallows, but as soon as the sun sets, I love that spark of color and the noise of fireworks. When I was a kid, I thought America invented fireworks. Of course, I thought everything good was made in America. Today, we often think of Chinese goods as inferior and sometimes not the safest products in our world. Well, the Chinese did get one thing right when they invented fireworks back in 200 BC.

From China, fireworks moved west into Europe. Naturally, someone decided it just might be a good idea to use the gunpowder in fireworks on a greater level to use in weapons. Well, there’s always going to be the war-minded types. But back to the fun of fireworks.

In medieval England, fireworks experts were known as fire masters. Their assistants, were called “green men” because they wore caps of leaves to protect their heads from sparks. Wonder why the leaves on their heads didn’t catch on fire. Well anyway, these “green men” also doubled as jesters and entertained the crowds with jokes as they prepared the displays of fireworks. The profession was fraught with danger with many of the “green men” dying or suffering injuries when detonations went haywire.

During the Renaissance, pyrotechnic schools were training fireworks artists across Europe mostly in Italy where the Italians became famous for their elaborate and colorful displays. It was those inventive Italians in the 1830s who became the first to incorporate trace amounts of metals and other additives, creating the bright, multicolored sparks and sunbursts we are familiar with today. The earlier displays had only featured booming sounds, orange flashes and faint golden traces of light. Well, that’s pretty boring.

Europeans brought their knowledge and appreciation of fireworks to the New World. According to legend, Captain John Smith set off the first display in Jamestown in 1608. Records show that some American colonists may have gotten a little carried away: A spate of firecracker-related pranks in Rhode Island became such a public nuisance that officials banned the “mischievous use of pyrotechnics” in 1731. Well, it’s only natural that our predecessors might get carried away with fireworks. That’s just the way we roll.

 On July 3, 1776, the day before the Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence, John Adams wrote a letter to his wife in which he foretold the role of fireworks in Fourth of July celebrations. Here’s what he said about the role of fireworks in the future of our country’s celebrations: “The day will be most memorable in the history of America,” he predicted. “I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade…bonfires and illuminations [a term for fireworks]…from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forevermore.” Of course, he turned out to be totally right except the “bonfires” have become grills with hotdogs in the present day. But back to my story…
So, the following year, fireworks displays commemorated our fledgling country’s first anniversary, and we have continued celebrating our freedom with fireworks, parades and ceremonies to this day. We have come to love fireworks so much we’ll fire them up for just about any occasion like New Year’s and inaugurations of presidents and so on. Or, in my neighborhood, any time someone just feels festive.

I hope everyone enjoys their 4th of July celebrations this year and that we can celebrate freedom for generations to come.

And just for fun, here are a few quotes about freedom from our presidents and honored celebrities:
Ronald Reagan: “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.”
Pearl S. Buck (1892-1973) American novelist:  None who have always been free can understand the terrible fascinating power of the hope of freedom to those who are not free.
Dwight D. Eisenhower: “If you want total security, go to prison. There you’re fed, clothed, given medical care and so on. The only thing lacking… is freedom.”
He also said, “History does not long entrust the care of freedom to the weak or the timid.”
W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965) British novelist and playwright): If a nation values anything more than freedom, it will lose its freedom: and the irony of it is that if it is comfort or money that it values more, it will lose that, too.
Abraham Lincoln: “Freedom is the last, best hope of earth.”

Now y’all get on out there and celebrate. Fire up the grills, bring out the food, shoot off some fireworks and keep freedom in your hearts.

Sarah J. McNeal

 Sarah McNeal is a multi-published author of several genres including time travel, paranormal, western and historical fiction. She is a retired ER nurse who lives in North Carolina with her four-legged children, Lily, the Golden Retriever and Liberty, the cat. Besides her devotion to writing, she also has a great love of music and plays several instruments including violin, bagpipes, guitar and harmonica. Her books and short stories may be found at Publishing by Rebecca Vickery, Victory Tales Press, Prairie Rose Publications and Painted Pony Books, and Fire Star Press, imprints of Prairie Rose Publications. She welcomes you to her website and social media:


  1. Interesting read about fireworks, Sarah! I firmly believe my husband must have a line of those "Green men" in his blood, for he has a reputation for frightening my family when he sets off fireworks. As he prepares them, words I cannot post here mingle with phrases such as "uh-oh" and "this is gonna hurt". He only bounced one charge off of my cousin's car, so that was a pretty good year, haha. Last year, we stood on the banks of the bay, looking out over the spot where the Star-Spangled Banner was penned, and watched firework displays shot into the air from five different towns and cities.

    1. Shayna, your husband must be a barrel of fun--and aggravation. LOL In North Carolina fireworks cannot be sold to private citizens. Like that's going to stop anybody. Charlotte is right on the border of South Carolina where fireworks can be purchased legally. Well, you know where everyone is going a few days before the fourth. In my neighborhood we have many guys like your husband who love fireworks. They've already started practicing their pyrotechnics getting ready for the 4th. I think it's fun. I don't have to go anywhere special to see fireworks displays; I can just sit out on my deck and watch or watch from my study window. I hope you and your husband have a great 4th of July--and be safe with those fireworks.

  2. I haven't seen a live display of fireworks in decades. Our city once had a huge display at the university stadium, but that was halted for some reason. During some years, fireworks are banned because of dry conditions. I don't think I saw a live fireworks show as a kid, but my kids did. At least a few time. One of the best was during one of the 3 years we lived in Stillwater, Oklahoma...husband was working on phd--and our house sat on a hill among a housing area. Our street had no street in back of us..just a long expanse of green fields, overlooking the town. The city put on a display so we sat in lawn chairs with our kids and dog and neighbors and had a ringside seat to watch the beautiful, glorious fireworks.
    The history of fireworks is interesting, so thanks for the information and the gorgeous photos. These days, we watch A Capitol Fourth each year on tv.

    1. Wow Celia, it's hard to imagine such a long time without seeing real live fireworks. I can understand a drought preventing a display. So far, no one has set anything on fire here. Although there are several places in town where they show fireworks, my neighborhood usually has enough crazy guys shooting them off that I don't have to go anywhere to see them. I like the idea of sitting in lawn chairs watching the display. I hope you have a wonderful 4th of July. BTW, I think you should post some more of your favorite recipes because everyone in my family loved your recipe for broccoli casserole. Thank you so much for coming and commenting, Celia.

  3. Great history Sarah. Growing up, fireworks displays were so fun, a big celebration. Even now, weather permitting, thousands of people flock to the events here. Me, I've kinda gotten away from the crowds, but do enjoy the arial displays that can be seen from my house. Doris

    1. Doris, before my parents moved to North Carolina, we lived in a rural town in Pennsylvania. I don't remember fireworks there, but I do remember the parades and church picnics for the 4th of July. They had great games for kids. I won a race once and got a cake for a prize, but my mother wouldn't let us eat it. Bummer. I personally don't see any harm in a sugar overload now and again. As a kid, I also didn't care if food might be made in less than sanitary conditions either. I figured stomach acid killed anything harmful. Parents just don't get it.
      I'm not much on crowds these days either, Doris--and I'm also not crazy about looking for parking or finding a spot where people don't block my view. I guess, like you, I really appreciate my neighbors for providing my fireworks. Thanks so much for your comment and I hope you have a fun and safe holiday.

  4. Sarah, such a great post. Its been a few years since my husband and I have ventured out to watch a fireworks display. I love to watch them though. I love the quotes you added at the end of your piece. This year it seems things are changing so quickly here in the States, and there is so much being written about our freedoms and traditions being taken away by government. Your quotes reminded me to think about these things and no... freedom isn't free and our ways of life here are something to hold dear. So this year while were munching on fried chicken, eating a slice of apple pie, and watching the fireworks as they soar across the sky... let's take a moment and say, God Bless the USA. Happy 4th of July all!

    1. Barb, I can't help but think about the soldiers in Afghanistan still fighting and the military dogs, too. Between the war that never ends and the chaos at home, I have become war weary. I have to avoid the news for blocks of time just to keep my sanity and my spirits up. But, whether I watch the news or not, I thank God every day for the freedoms these humans and military animals are putting their lives on the line to keep for us.
      Oh, btw, I posted on my FB page a couple weeks back about how our government wasn't bringing home military dogs. They were just leaving them in Afghanistan. HOWEVER, because we have the freedom of speech that we do, a petition with thousands of signatures made its way to congress and those military dogs are coming home to be adopted and loved by families. That made my day.
      Thank you so much for coming by and commenting, Barb.

  5. Sarah, thank you so much for a great post. I enjoyed learning about it's history. We on Keuka Lake(Finger Lakes of New York State) have fireworks at the end of the lake put on by the firemen. We can either go out in our boat( as hundreds of other also do) and sit on the water and the fireworks shower over our heads and boom loud and clear. OR we can sit on our dock and watch from 3 miles down the lake. We can see the display(not as vividly) but the booms are fun to wait for as it takes 30 or seconds for the sound to reach us. Weird but fun. Then the parade of boats start. Usually 20 or so all decorated with lights on masts of sailboats(they use their motors) or motor boats draped with lights go around half the lake. The lead BIG boat has music going--American songs--anthem, God Bless America, etc. Everyone along the shore hoot and holler as they parade by. Most everyone along the shoreline has a camp fire going or flares out and it's really quite lovely to see. Wishing you and everyone a very Happy Fourth of July. And though our country is far from perfect, let's not forget how blessed and very lucky we are to have our freedom.

  6. Bev, the fireworks over the lake must be just beautiful. Seeing all that either in a boat or on a dock must be great fun. I actually wrote a scene in The Violin, where my lead characters go out in a row boat to watch the fireworks. It's got to be a wonderful sight. The parade of boats and patriotic music is such a great idea. Makes me wish I lived on a lake, too. Do you live on the lake year round? I'm imagining it in winter iced over with Christmas trees.
    Thank you so much for coming and sharing your 4th of July experience with us, Bev.

  7. Great post, Sarah! I'm sorry I'm late--just my crazy life! LOL I always loved the 4th of July because I have a July birthday. When I was growing up, of course, you could buy fireworks and set them off most anywhere in the smaller towns. We would usually go to my grandparents' and have a huge celebrations. Everyone would bring fireworks and the men would set them off while the women and children watched from packing quilts on the ground. We make homemade ice cream, and of course, each of us had to take a turn sitting on top of the freezer while the man cranked. LOL

    More than anything, I just remember how great it was to see all my cousins and the festive feeling all the adults had--lots of laughter and joking and talking (and of course, playing, amongst the kids). I really was sorry that my kids missed that--but of course, my mom was the oldest of 11 kids, so I had a TON of cousins---and there were only three of us in my family, with my sisters being much older than me, so our kids were spaced too far apart. There is nothing like a good cousin!

    Hugs, and happy 4th of July!

  8. Happy birthday, July baby, Cheryl! What great fun you must have had with all those cousins. I wish my family had been big like yours. My mother had one brother who had 3 kids, but they lived in Alabama and I never saw them that often. They considered my sister and me "Yankees" and weren't too happy to have us visit them. We never asked to go back. Since both of my dad's brothers died before they had children, we were the only grandkids on that side of the family, but no cousins. I envy you for having so many relatives.
    Did you ever set the woods on fire with those fireworks? There is just something magical about fireworks that makes a holiday special. What's a celebration without them?
    I know how busy you are so I really appreciate you dropping by and sharing your memories of the 4th of July. I'm still thinking about that homemade ice cream. Nothing better than that.
    Thank you so much for coming by. I hope you and yours have a great celebration tomorrow.