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History of Fireworks

DIWALI

Divali is the Hindu festival which is celebrated in India and all across the world on Amaavasya, that is, the fifteenth night of the dark fortnight of the month of Kaartik (October/November).

The word "Divali" is a variation of the Sanskrit word Deepavali, Deepa meaning light and Avali, meaning a row. Divali is also called the Festival of Lights.

Traditionally, it is marked by the lighting of deeyas which are made from clay and filled with oil or ghee. Devotees will also clean their homes and surroundings wear new clothes and give charity to the needy.

The Festival of Lights is celebrated by Hindu's all over the world and is a great occasion for using fireworks. The displays generally focus less on noise and more on filling the night sky with brilliant light and beautiful colours.

Several legends surround the origins of this festival. Here we will mention some of the most popular ones.

The Story of Rama and Sita One of the most common stories about Divali is the return of Lord Rama and his wife Sita to Ayodhya after their fourteen year exile. This story is told in the Ramayana - the Story of Rama. It tells the tale of how Lord Rama, with help from the monkey warrior, Hanuman, slew the evil king Ravana of Lanka and rescued his wife Sita who had been captured.

After this victory, the entire city of Ayodhya was adorned with flowers and garlands in celebration of Lord Ram's return. The surroundings were made very clean and were beautifully fragranced.

Throughout Ayodhya devotees were fasting, anxiously awaiting the return of Lord Ram. Ram arrived at Ayodhya with Sita and was welcomed with joyous celebrations and the people lit hundreds of rows of clay lamps to greet him. This was to signify the victory of good over evil and the coming of God-consciousness into the life of the devotee.

The day he destroyed Ravana was called Dussehra, and the day on which he returned to Ayodhya was called Divali.

The Defeat of Narakaasura by Lord Krishna Another tale contributing to the evolution of Divali is the story of how Lord Krishna vanquished the evil king Narakaasura on the day of Divali.

The wicked Narakaasura used to kidnap beautiful young women and keep them prisoner. It is said that this hardship fell on 16,000 celestial princesses. Eventually, their cries for rescue reached the ears of Lord Vishnu, who came in the form of Krishna and destroyed the evil king.

A somewhat different version of this same story states that Lord Krishna destroyed Narakaasura with the help of his consort Satyabhaama.

The Story of King Mahabali and the Dwarf Some texts suggest that King Mahabali - sometimes called King Bali - is also remembered throughout the festival of Divali. He is considered either a demon king or a compassionate ruler depending on which account of this legend one reads.

All agree however that he was a powerful and ambitious ruler who controlled heaven and earth and it is said he never refused a request.

Some of the Gods beseeched Vishnu to control King Mahabali's power. Vishnu came to earth in the form of a dwarf dressed as a priest. The dwarf approached King Mahabali and asked if he would give him the space that he could cover with three strides.

King Mahabali would never refuse a request and agreed to grant the dwarf what he asked, at this point the dwarf changed into Vishnu and his three strides covered all the Earth, all the Skies and the whole Universe!

King Mahabali was banished to the underworld. Lord Vishnu however, granted him one wish because of his magnanimous nature. Thus, Mahabali is allowed to visit the earth for one day a year (Divali) and his subjects light deeyas and take part in joyous celebrations.

Interestingly, this legend is also cited as the origin of the Onam Festival that is celebrated in August by the people of Kerala, South India.

The Goddess Lakshmi Lakshmi is one of the most important figures of Hindu mythology associated with the festival of Divali.

Legend has it that Lakshmi emerged from the ocean of milk after the churning by the Devas (gods) and the Daanavas (demons). This event is a cause of incredible joy because Lakshmi is considered to be the embodiment of loveliness, grace and prosperity.

The Puranas are a series of Hindu religious texts steeped in allegory. Highlighted in The Puranas is another event associating Lakshmi with Divali.

According to these texts, Divali represents the day of marriage between Lord Vishnu (the Preserver) and Goddess Lakshmi (the Goddess of wealth and prosperity). The matrimony of Lord Vishnu to Goddess Lakshmi denotes the link between preservation and wealth.

The Philosophy No matter which story they tell, Divali is a very special occasion for Hindus throughout the world. The many ceremonies signify one's journey and the behaviours that should be cultivated for self-enlightenment.

The aim of Divali celebrations is to move man on the spiritual path and ultimately achieve illumination by becoming one with God.

As they light the lamps in their houses, gardens and streets, those celebrating Divali are reminded to light the lamps of wisdom, goodness and God-consciousness in themselves. This is the path on which they can attain the "Light of Lights" - God.

Today Divali is as popular as ever and is celebrated all around the globe. Fireworks are being seen more and more in Divali celebrations and the festival of light is a time to illuminate the sky.

Here at Fireworks Direct (Midlands) Ltd we have been supplying fireworks for the Festival of Divali for years, and hope to do so for many years to come.

GUY FAWKES NIGHT

For 400 years, bonfires have burned on November 5th to mark the failed Gunpowder Plot.

The tradition of Guy Fawkes-related bonfires actually began the very same year as the failed coup.

The Plot was foiled in the night between the 4th and 5th of November 1605. Already on the 5th, agitated Londoners who knew little more than that their King had been saved, joyfully lit bonfires in thanksgiving.

As years progressed, however, the ritual became more elaborate. Soon, people began placing effigies onto bonfires, and fireworks were added to the celebrations. Effigies of Guy Fawkes, and sometimes those of the Pope, graced the pyres.

Still today, some communities throw dummies of both Guy Fawkes and the Pope on the bonfire (and even those of a contemporary politician or two), although the gesture is seen by most as a quirky tradition, rather than an expression of hostility towards the Pope.

Preparations for Bonfire Night celebrations include making a dummy of Guy Fawkes, which is called "the Guy". Some children even keep up an old tradition of walking in the streets, carrying "the Guy" they have just made, and beg passersby for "a penny for the Guy." The kids use the money to buy fireworks for the evening festivities.

On the night itself, Guy is placed on top of the bonfire, which is then set alight; and fireworks displays fill the sky.

The extent of the celebrations and the size of the bonfire varies from one community to the next.

Lewes, in the South East of England, is famous for its Bonfire Night festivities and consistently attracts thousands of people each year to participate.

Bonfire Night is not only celebrated in Britain. The tradition crossed the oceans and established itself in the British colonies during the centuries. It was actively celebrated in New England as "Pope Day" as late as the 18th century.

Today, November 5th bonfires still light up in far out places like New Zealand and Newfoundland in Canada.

Here at Fireworks Direct (Midlands) Ltd we have been supplying fireworks for Guy Fawkes night for years, and hope to do so for many years to come.

CHINESE NEW YEAR

Chinese New Year is by far the longest and most important festivity in the Chinese calendar.

Chinese months are calculated by the lunar calendar, with each month beginning on the darkest day. New Year festivities traditionally start on the first day of the month and continue until the fifteenth, when the moon is at its brightest.

In China, people usually take time off work to prepare for and celebrate the New Year.

Legend has it that in ancient times, Buddha asked all the animals to meet him on Chinese New Year. Twelve came, and Buddha named a year after each one. He announced that the people born in each animal's year would have some of that animal's personality.

Traditionally at Chinese New Year celebrations people wear red clothes, decorated with poems on red paper, and give children "lucky money" in red envelopes. Red symbolizes fire, which according to legend can drive away bad luck.

The fireworks that illuminate the festivities are rooted in the same ancient customs. Thousands of years ago, people in China lit bamboo stalks, believing that the crackling flames would frighten evil spirits.

For the Chinese, the New Year is a time for family reunion. Family members gather at each other's homes for visits and shared meals, most significantly a feast on New Year's Eve.

It is important for Chinese people to start the New Year as they wish it to continue, as it is believed that appearance and attitude at this time sets the tone for the whole year.

It is considered unlucky to greet anyone in the bedroom, so even the sick and elderly will get up out of bed on this day. Scissors and knives will not be used as it is thought that they can cut off their good fortune.

Another ancient practice is that the entire house should be cleaned on New Year's Eve. All brooms, brushes, dust pans and other cleaning equipment are put away after the cleaning. Sweeping or dusting should not be done on New Year's Day for fear that good fortune will be swept away. After New Year's Day, the floors may be swept.

Beginning at the door, the dust and rubbish are swept to the middle of the parlor, then placed in the corners and not taken or thrown out until the fifth day. At no time should the rubbish in the corners be trampled upon. In sweeping, there is a superstition that if you sweep the dirt out over the threshold, you will sweep one of the family members away.

Also, to sweep the dust and dirt out of your house by the front entrance is to sweep away the good fortune of the family; it must always be swept inwards and then carried out, then no harm will follow. All dirt and rubbish must be taken out the back door.

The lantern festival is one of the most popular traditions, and is held on the fifteenth day of the first lunar month. Some of the lanterns may be works of art, painted with birds, animals, flowers, zodiac signs, and scenes and characters from legends and history.

People adorn temples with glowing lanterns, and carry lanterns on evening parades under the glow of the full moon.

For many revelers the highlight of the lantern festival is the dragon dance. The dragon can stretch to over a hundred feet long, and is typically made of silk, paper, and bamboo, and is always colourful and beautiful to look at.

Traditionally the dragon is held aloft by young men who dance as they guide the colourful beast through the streets on this ancient and dignified celebration.

The Chinese invented fireworks, so it's no surprise to learn that firecrackers are used extensively on Chinese New Year.

In ancient China bamboo stems filled with gunpowder that were burnt to create small explosions were once used to drive away evil spirits.

In more recent times, this method has evolved into the use of firecrackers during the festive season. Firecrackers are usually strung on a long fused string so it can be hung down, with each firecracker rolled up in red paper. Once lit the firecracker lets out a loud popping noise and as they are usually strung together by the hundreds, or even thousands.

The firecrackers are known for their deafening explosions that it is thought to scare away evil spirits. The burning of firecrackers also signifies a joyful time of year and has become an integral aspect of Chinese New Year celebrations.

It is good to see the nation that invented fireworks still using them so profusely today, and it is a custom that we don't think will end.

Here at Fireworks Direct (Midlands) Ltd we have been supplying fireworks for Chinese New year for years, and hope to do so for many years to come.

LAS FALLAS

Each year on 19 March, the province of Valencia on the Spanish east coast erupts into a frenzy of energetic pyromania and destruction.

The conclusion of the four-day festival - Las Fallas - this one night sees the purposeful destruction of over 700 papier-mâché statues, some of which are up to 100 feet tall. Literally thousands of fire-fighting volunteers are on stand by, often in the most miniscule of squares in the heart of the city's residential areas, to supervise the ritual sacrifice of these brightly coloured statues.

The mass firestorm's that results are as baffling to an outsider as they are fierce. The whole city of Valencia has set itself on fire.

No one knows exactly how Las Fallas began. Some say that the carpenters, who have St. Joseph as their patron saint, used the feast day as an occasion to clean out their workshops, burning their bits and pieces of scrap wood in the square near their shops.

These small annual bonfires then came to be associated with festivals marking the beginning of spring; at some point, dolls were made for the festival, then statues, and eventually the beautiful and intricate, towering fallas we see today.

Beginning on the 15th March, every neighborhood in Valencia assembles their giant, elaborate, papier-mâché, wood and wax effigies, in the city's squares.

Then on St. Joseph's day (San José), March 19, La Crema commences - the simultaneous destruction of the fallas in an enormous inferno of some 700 fires set in the city's many squares, a years worth of planning preparation and loving craftsmanship, up in smoke in a matter of minutes.

A massive amount of work goes into the creation of every statue. Planning begins for next year's festival as soon as this year's ends.

Hundreds of committees discuss ideas and make the extensive preparations. Normally, each statue consists of one very tall beautiful figure surrounded by several smaller, life size statues; many of the secondary pieces are grotesque and ugly.

Each component of the statue is brightly decorated and has exaggerated features. Provocative images like bare-breasted women are very common nowadays. Sometimes the principle designer will even include a caricature of himself at the base of the central construction, making his mark on the statue, similar to how an artist would sign a painting.

These large fallas are almost always accompanied by smaller, separate displays put together by the children from each local area. This way the skills involved in making the fallas are passed down from generation to generation; this may explain the outstanding quality of these works of art.

Around these festivities - the music, bullfights, fireworks and fallas - Valencia offers some of the most beautiful cathedrals and churches in Spain, perhaps Spain's best covered market, the sensuous Silk Market, the spectacular modern architecture of La Ciudad de las Artes y de las Ciencias, one of the world's largest aquariums and the wonderful traditional paellas available at most restaurants and cafes.

It really is a feast for all the senses. However there is one thing that everyone looks forward to experiencing, the fireworks; which the Spanish are particularly good at.

Each day there are two separate displays. The first is called la mascleta, takes place every day at 2p.m. and is unmistakable in its ferocity of sound.

Mascleta explosions erupt in the city sky for about 5 minutes of non- stop aural bombardment. Imagine hundreds of cannon fired off one after the other, building gradually in intensity to a cacophony of explosions that literally shake the earth beneath the feet and leaves spectators in awe.

This is Valencia's annual gift to its people. The second display, in the evening, is far more traditional - and much more spectacular. This takes place along the dry river bed which snakes through the city centre. It usually starts late at night - at midnight or 1am - and is one of the best pyrotechnic displays anywhere in the world.

The Spanish are renowned experts at this kind of event, though the locals always show a blasé attitude to the display. The fireworks, they will invariably say, are not as good as last years.

Each of the large fallas are rigged with explosives and the crowds gather around their favourite one to witness its fiery demise. Elaborate ways of ignition are used, sometimes involving jets of fire and spiraling fuses, which helps to build up the anticipation in the audiences, finally the moment arrives and almost simultaneously all 700 Fallas are set alight across the city, and is met with another mascleta style bombardment of the ears, the shrieking and cheering of the locals as they see the culmination of a years planning turned to smoke and ash.

But the evening is not over yet. Now the crowds snake their way through the narrow streets towards the city's centre where one last falla remains to be destroyed. It is the largest and most beautiful of them all, and its burning will indicate the grand finale of the festival.

The main square is filled with spectators. Cheering and awaiting the final burning, another huge series of aerial fireworks accompany this last fallas and as it disappears, so does the last remnant of the years celebrations. Tomorrow, planning will begin for next year.

Immediately after the burning, the crowds depart quickly to the bars and restaurants and a mass of cleaners set to work. By the time the city awakens in the morning, there is nothing left of the night's celebrations but a lasting memory in the hearts and minds - and possibly the ears - of its citizens.

Las Fallas is best described as well organised chaos. It defies logical analysis. It is an insane frenzy of fire and light, organised with all the precision of a military operation. For this reason, it is perhaps Western Europe's finest festival for pyro lovers everywhere.

AMERICAN INDEPENDENCE DAY

Independence Day is the biggest national holiday in the United States of America. This day commemorates the signing of the Declaration of Independence by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

At the time it was signed, the US consisted of 13 colonies under the rule of King George III of England. There was a growing unrest in the colonies concerning the taxes that had to be paid to the English. This was commonly referred to as "Taxation without Representation" as the colonists did not have any representative in the English Parliament and had no control over what went on.

As the unrest grew in the colonies, King George feared a rebellion and sent extra troops to help control the population. In 1774 the 13 colonies sent delegates to Philadelphia Pennsylvania to form the First Continental Congress. The delegates were not happy with England, but were reluctant to declare war.

In April 1775 as King George's troops advanced on Concord, Massachusetts, Paul Revere famously raised the alarm with cries, "The British are coming, the British are coming" as he sped on his horse through the night time streets.

The Battle of Concord marked the unofficial start of the colonies war for Independence and its "shot heard round the world". In May the next year the colonies again sent delegates to the Second Continental Congress.

For almost a year the congress had attempted to solve its differences with England without formally declaring war. By June 1776 it was apparent that their efforts were hopeless and a committee was formed to create a formal declaration of independence.

Chaired by Thomas Jefferson, the committee included John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Philip Livingston and Roger Sherman. Thomas Jefferson was chosen to compose the first draft which was presented to the congress on the 28th of June.

After a variety of changes a vote was taken late in the afternoon of July 4th. Of the 13 colonies, 9 voted in favour of the Declaration, Pennsylvania and South Carolina voted against, Delaware was undecided and the state of New York abstained.

John Hancock, the President of the Continental Congress, was the first to sign the Declaration of Independence, making it official. According to accounts from witnesses John Hancock signed his name "with a great flourish" in order that "King George can read that without spectacles!"

Copies of the Declaration were distributed the following day. The Pennsylvania Evening Post was the first newspaper to print the Declaration on the 6th July, 1776.

On July 8th the Declaration had its first reading in public in Philadelphia's Independence Square. The Declaration was read twice that day to cheering crowds and ringing church bells. Even the bell in Independence Hall was rung - The "Province Bell", which was later renamed the "Liberty Bell" after its inscription:- Proclaim Liberty Throughout All the Land Unto All the Inhabitants Thereof Although the signing of the Declaration was not finished until August, the 4th of July was accepted as the official anniversary of United States independence.

The first Independence Day celebration took place the following year on July 4th 1777. By the early 19th Century the tradition of parades, picnics, and fireworks were established as the way to celebrate America's birthday.

Fireworks have been banned in most places due to potential dangers, however most cities usually have large organized displays. The most impressive ones being New York on the East River, in Chicago on Lake Michigan, Boston on the Charles River, and on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

There are no prizes for guessing that the predominant colours in the displays are red white and blue and each show ends in a spectacular style, every year trying to outdo the previous years display.

The 4th of July is America's big night for fireworks, and nobody does big quite like the Americans.

NEW YEARS EVE

New Year's Eve is on December 31st, the final day of the Gregorian year, and the day before New Year's Day.

New Year's Eve is a separate observance from that of New Year's Day. New Year's Eve is celebrated with parties and social gatherings spanning the transition of the year at midnight, often going on into the wee small hours.

This day is traditionally a religious feast, but ever since the 1900s it has become an occasion to celebrate the night of December 31st.

Many cultures use fireworks and other forms of noise making as part of the celebration. Lots of cities around the world are famous for their firework displays and each year the quality and quantity of fireworks increases.

Depending on the country, individuals may be allowed to light fireworks, even if it is not allowed during the rest of the year.

For many January 1st marks the end of a period of remembrance of the passing year, especially in the media, which usually starts right after Christmas Day. Newspapers and magazines often have end of year articles reviewing the changes of the past 12 months. There are also articles on planned or expected changes in the coming year, such as the description of new laws that usually take effect on 1st January and planned events and festivities.

It is also a popular time to make New Year's resolutions, which people hope to fulfill in the coming year; the most popular ones include, stopping smoking or drinking alcohol, or to lose weight and get physically fit.

The most memorable thing about New Year for most of us nowadays is the spectacular firework displays that have become synonymous with New Years Eve. Each year the shows get bigger and better, with cities across the globe competing with each other to put on the most elaborate and extravagant display.

As well as the massive organised displays around the world, there are literally thousands upon thousands of smaller private displays and council run events. In one night the dark skies are filled with lights and colours of every shape and size imaginable from back gardens and parks everywhere.

New Years Eve is the one night of the year when everyone has the same plan for their fireworks - unlike at bonfire night when each display has its own start and finish time - New Years Eve fireworks are mostly used at 12 O Clock Midnight and they all go off together in an unbelievable cacophony of noise.

Anyone who has been in a major city for the Bells can testify to this, and it really is one of the most amazing spectacles one can witness.

New Years Eve has been celebrated since calendars were first invented. The style of celebration may have changed a lot over the centuries, but the excitement and anticipation has not. It remains one of the most magical nights of the year, old or new.

Here at Fireworks Direct (Midlands) Ltd we have been supplying fireworks for New Years Eve for years, and hope to do so for many years to come.

Fireworks Direct (Midlands) Ltd.

Unit 3, Doal Trading Estate
Rolfe Street
Smethwick
Birmingham
West Midlands B66 2AR
United Kingdom
E: jas@fireworks-direct.co.uk
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