Bonfires and Illuminations

Bonfires and Illuminations

Foreigners look at our parade of clowns presidential race and claim they can’t figure us out. Let me make it easy – Americans like to blow things up. Just yesterday, we had Independence Day – when we celebrate our freedom from tyranny by scaring the shit out of animals across the country. I’m pretty sure that when John Adams said we should celebrate with “pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other”, he was really just getting back at Benjamin Franklin for letting his Newfoundland run loose. Of course, Adams named his own dog Satan, so maybe he just had a thing for fire and brimstone.

The 4th is a day when Americans typically let loose (because we’re otherwise so high strung) by organizing public explosions. It’s a useful safety valve for destructive impulses, because otherwise we’d be out buying hand-held explosion directing devices pretty much anywhere we wanted. Except in California, where the urge to turn perfectly good material into crap takes the form of Spiderman 7! (where we save money by reusing actors, dialogue, and footage from the first six indistinguishable versions).

According to, the Chinese were the ones who invented fireworks. Legend has it that one day, Ling Bai, tired of the incessant chanting of the monks next door, took her husband’s leftover gunpowder, wrapped it up in a pretty package with tissue paper and delivered it to the temple door. Novice Jinhao, who spotted the smoking thread hanging out of the bottom, later claimed he yelled “Bomb!”, but couldn’t be heard over the chanting. It’s notable that Jinhao was the only one to escape with his hearing intact, though that may have been a miscalculation on Bai’s part, who later moved to Shanghai for ‘peace and quiet’.

Americans know nothing about this, of course, because it combines both ‘history’ and ‘not ours’, two things that we like even less than our presidential candidates. So we go on happily blowing things up, parading around, and singing as much as we can remember of our national anthem, which celebrates blowing things up.

So, next time someone complains about noisy fireworks, just let them know you’re getting back at church bells and muezzins, who take on the noisemaking all the rest of the year, especially right around the time you’re trying to sleep in. More to the point, all that ringing and singing disturb your pets, who need all the snuggling time they can get. In fact, maybe if we all snuggled more, we’d have less time to blow things up.