Wednesday, July 4, 2012


Marion Pellicano Ambrose
When I was a kid, we waited all year for the 4th of July to come along. On that day, we were allowed to have “punks” ( In case you never heard of it, a punk is a smoldering stick used for lighting firework fuses.  It is safer than a match or a lighter because it can be used from a greater distance and does not use an open flame. They are made of bamboo and a brown coating of dried manure or compressed sawdust. Punks often resemble sticks of incense, and in some countries actual incense sticks are used in a similar fashion. Punks are sold at nearly all firework stands and some stands will include them for free with a purchase.) We all felt so grown up, carrying a lit and smoking stick of manure! We all couldn’t wait until it got dark when our parents would herd all the neighborhood kids up to the Knights of Columbus where we would all sit out on the dock overlooking the bay. From the dock, we could see the glorious fireworks display from Coney Island, which was directly across the bay.  As we munched on homemade sandwiches and drank Kool ade,  a chorus of “oohs” and “ahhs” rang out as  bursts of red, white, blue and gold sparkled in the night sky.

Now, kids can go to Disney or one of the other theme parks for nightly fireworks. They can purchase packages with missiles, flowerpots and star clusters to shoot off in their own back yards. Yet even with the convenience and availability of professional fireworks, kids still get a thrill out of the actual 4th of July fireworks.
History of Fireworks
The Chinese most likely gave spark to the first fireworks during the Han Dynasty (206 B.C.–220 A.D.). They ignited paper or bamboo tubes filled with explosives to create loud noises that would scare off evil spirits. That ability to create good vibrations quickly made fireworks an essential part of events such as weddings, funerals, coronations and New Year’s observances.It wasn’t until the 13th century that fireworks made their way to Europe. Some credit businessman and trader Marco Polo with delivering the first shipment. Others say it was Crusaders returning from the East.
By the 15th century, Italians had developed fireworks into an arts-and-entertainment accessory by mixing chemicals and shaping canisters to produce showers of sparks that lit up the night sky. Elaborate displays that spun, sparkled and shot became a much-anticipated part of European religious festivals and public celebrations, such as the marriage of England’s Henry VII and Elizabeth Plantagenet in 1486.
In the United States, fireworks have been a part of the Fourth of July holiday since the first celebration in 1777, the year after the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
Types of fireworks
Aerial fireworks are shot into the air by mortars (shells), or use their propulsion (skyrockets). Here are some of the different fireworks and their effects:
Stars: The small bits of explosive that you see scattered across the sky when fireworks explode
Peony: Explodes in a radial pattern, like the flower
Dahlia: Like a Peony, but with fewer and larger stars
Chrysanthemum: Like the peony, yet, leaves a trail of glowing particles as it falls
Crossette: Where a Chrysanthemum’s stars would burn out, a Crossette’s stars explode into smaller pieces, creating branches across the sky.
Willow: To qualify, the glowing limbs must stay in the sky for 10 seconds or more.
Palm: Like a willow, but with slower-moving, slower-burning stars, resembling the limbs of a palm tree
Spider: Like the Chrysanthemum, but with longer-burning, droopy tails (like a spider’s leg)
Fish: Creates particles that wriggle like fish across the sky.
Rings: From a spherical shell, they explode into rings like the planet Saturn. Often combined with Peonies.
Time rain: Created by big, slow-burning stars that leave trails of sizzling, sparkling stars
Multi-break/Bouquet shells: A big shell containing smaller shells. The first burst scatters them.
Fireworks are a fun, festive, traditional way to celebrate our country’s birthday. It’s important that kids be supervised and adults be extremely cautious. There are always tragic injuries and sometimes even deaths attributed to fireworks, not to mention wildfires that can be sparked in dry conditions. So, have fun, enjoy, but please be careful this 4th of July.

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