The Fourth of July is just around the corner. I’m looking forward to that for two reasons: because it’s a chance to commemorate the anniversary of a nation I love, and because I’ll be celebrating 31 years in a row of not having to work on my birthday. Not a bad deal.
Fireworks are an American tradition. (Although, to be fair, the Chinese were celebrating with pyrotechnics way before us.) We all grew up with them, but it goes back a lot farther than that; the first July 4th fireworks display was in Philadelphia in 1777–on the first anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. It sounds like it was quite a party:
One of the most elaborate celebrations in 1777 and the first organized celebration of its kind occurred in Philadelphia. This event had all of the elements of typical future celebrations–the discharge of cannon, one round for each state in the union, the ringing of bells, a dinner, the use of music, the drinking of toasts (it would subsequently be traditional to have one toast for each state in the union), “loud huzzas,” a parade, fireworks, and the use of the nation’s colors, in this case the dressing up of “armed ships and gallies” in the harbor.(from the Virginia Gazette)
Officially, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends banning all sales of fireworks to the public. But–at least in my state–that hasn’t happened yet, so we all know what’s going to happen:
A few families are going to bring their kids to somebody’s house for a cookout. After dinner, while the women are talking, the dads will pile into somebody’s Tahoe and drive up the road to the closest fireworks stand. They’ll drop a few hundred dollars on colorful explosives, drive back to the house, and wait for dark. Then all the kids will watch while their fathers (or mothers…I’m not judging) risk their lives, limbs, and eyesight in the name of patriotism. The kids will break out the sparklers and stand on the porch, writing their names in the air. And hopefully, everyone will make it home unharmed.
But that doesn’t always happen. In 2013, there were 11,400 injuries related to fireworks, and 14% of those were in children under 4. These injuries aren’t much of a surprise to those working in emergency departments on July 4th. (Or December 31st. Or any other holiday that people decide to celebrate by blowing stuff up.) Most of these injuries are minor burns that are treated and sent home, but some are more serious–resulting in blindness, head trauma, or severe burns requiring skin grafting.
About a third of fireworks-related injuries are due to sparklers–you know, those harmless metal sticks that people set on fire and let their children play with. Depending on the metal used, they burn somewhere between 1,000 and 3,000 degrees F…so it’s probably a better idea to let kids express themselves with a different medium. Like finger paint. There’s nothing patriotic about burning your kids.
Play it safe this year, and leave the fireworks to the pros. Check your local newspaper for listings of displays in your city. They’ll do a better job, and it will save you some serious money. Oh yeah, and it’s safer, too.