By Anugraha Hadke:
Human beings have always had a fascinating relationship with fire ever since some unknowing homo erectus stumbled upon it over a million years ago. We have feared it, worshipped it, fought it, and eventually learned how to control it.
And once we learned how to control it, we obviously had to experiment! That’s how the Chinese, in an attempt to scare away evil spirits, came up with firecrackers around the year 1040. While their use is widespread throughout the world and primarily for visual appeal (ooo pretty lights!), the underlying reason most cultures use them is to ward off the big bad goonies.
So apart from Diwali, here are some festivals from around the world that primarily celebrate with firecrackers, or feature fire as the main star.
1. Chinese New Year: They invented them, so they might as well use them to mark such an important occasion! Falling between January and February of the English calendar, apart from marking the turn of the year in the Chinese calendar, this festival also honours deities and ancestors.
2. American Independence Day: More popularly known as the Fourth of July, this day commemorates the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Typical festivities include family barbeques, parades, and some spectacular display of fireworks.
3. Guy Fawkes Day:
The fifth of November,
The Gunpowder treason and plot;
I know of no reason
Why the Gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot!”
In 1605, a Catholic dissident named Guy Fawkes hatched a plan to blow up the British Parliament, and with it the then King James I. Sadly for poor Guy, he got caught and was tortured in the most barbaric manner before finally being executed for treason. So now, every year on the 5th of November, giant bonfires are lit across England to burn effigies of Guy, along with firework displays.
4. Sumidagawa Festival: This is one of the most popular fireworks festival celebrated in Tokyo. Back in 1732 when the country was in a major economic mess and disease and famine were widespread, these firework displays were started with a three-fold purpose: to mourn the dead, celebrate life, and provide entertainment to the poverty stricken masses.
5. Las Fallas: Thought that a crazy tomato fight or setting bulls free to run across town was the craziest thing the Spanish could do? Then you probably don’t know about this festival which literally translates to ‘the fires’. Large dolls and puppets (mostly resembling corrupt politicians) are made using cardboard, stuffed with fireworks, and set on fire at midnight on the 20th of March. The entire town of Valencia is in a way set ablaze!
6. Bastille Day: On 14th July 1789, Parisian revolutionaries took over the Bastille, a royal fortress, officially marking the beginning of the French Revolution. Annual celebrations include a military parade, dancing, and a fireworks display (accompanied by some fancy French wines I can’t pronounce).
7. Purim: One of the most joyous Jewish festival, Purim is celebrated to commemorate the time when the Jewish living in Persia were saved from being killed by Haman, a cruel, conniving advisor to the king. In present day Israel, the festival also sees parades across the country, with fireworks becoming a major part of celebrations.
8. Uncle Bilbo’s Birthday: Yes, it’s not a festival, and yes it’s not ‘real’, but you have to admit, the firework display by Gandalf on Bilbo Baggins’ birthday, in The Lord Of The Rings, in case you were wondering, was pretty fantastic (he probably bought the crackers from the Weasley twins).