Thursday, July 06, 2006

Independence Day

A couple of days ago, it was the Fourth of July -- American Independence Day. I wasn't able to blog on it at the time as our internet connection went down and we only got it back this morning.

So, I hear you ask, what did you, an English family in North Carolina, do on Independence Day?

A firework above one of the houses in our neighbourhoodThe answer is that it took us a while to get with the programme. At Thanksgiving, we were invited to partake by an American family, but for this public holiday we were left to our own devices. We could see that all the shops started selling fireworks and firework vendors began to crop up on various street corners. Apart from this, not much else seemed to be happening and we were too pre-occupied with the World Cup (what with the first of the semi-finals being on the fourth of July) to look into attending an organised event. I was only really made aware of the occasion because some businesses seemed to be closed for the day.

We spent the morning pottering at home, then the afternoon watching the Germany-Italy match. After the match, we went to the pool which was open despite it being a public holiday. There was not much special there either, except that someone said that there were various families planning to set off fireworks that evening.

That evening, after dinner, we decided to go for a walk around the neighbourhood to see if we can spot any fireworks.

Click here to watch the videoIn the UK, there are two main celebrations that are associated with fireworks, both of which occur in the winter. One is New Year and the other is Guy Fawkes. People tend to celebrate Guy Fawkes in one of two ways. The first way is to attend a public event -- an organised fireworks display that one would pay an entrance fee to attend. Such an event usually takes place in a field with a few hot dog/burger stands dotted around the edges. Children hold sparklers and such an event should be a lovely festival-like atmosphere. However, I always found that standing around in a muddy field, in the rain, feeling cold always took the edge off it for me. As a result, we always favoured the second method of enjoying Guy Fawkes, which is to get some beer in, invite a few friends over, fire up the barbecue and set off some fireworks in the back garden.

We expected that firework parties here would be similar private affairs, which to some extent they were. However, there was also a real community feel about it, similar to the feeling I got walking around the neighbourhood at Halloween. Many families were setting off fireworks on their front drive. This is probably because many of the back gardens on this estate are wooded and/or have no back lawns or patios. As we walked past, people would greet us with a "Happy July Fourth", which is how most people around here seem to refer to the festival.

Fireworks in the middle of the streetThere were also what seemed to be impromptu gatherings in the middle of the street, such that approaching cars would have to turn around and head back the way they had come. People would just bring our some folding chairs, some beer and some fireworks. Then they'd just take it in turns setting off their fireworks. There was one particular crossroads with a particularly large gathering. The entire occasion had turned into a street party.

My only concern was the lackadaisical attitude to safety. People thought nothing of going and lighting fireworks that were right next to already lit fireworks. I also saw many young children lighting fireworks with little adult supervision.

All in all, it was a lovely warm summers evening with the air filled with that smoky smell of fireworks that we all love.


Ren said...

There are several organized events, many are actually on the 3rd. This is probably because most of the fireworks displays start as late as 9:30pm so people can still rest in the morning. It is usually marked by a cookout (in Australia we called them barbecues) and because it is summer, the pools are definitely open on any of the holidays.
I agree with you that the safety concerns are almost nonexistent. In Australia, the big fireworks display was for the queen's birthday (but it's a few months from her birthday). When the time came around, there would be numerous public service announcements regarding fireworks safety, and we would be also taught in school how to use fireworks safely. I will spare you the details of one incident I saw when I was in Florida at the beach. The beach was crowded and fireworks were being set off all the time everywhere. Not safe at all. It is very difficult for a parent to keep track of their kids in that mess. Not every place you can set off fireworks at home. It depends on the local government. If you cross into Tenessee from NC, you'll find a bunch of fireworks shops. I haven't figured it out yet. I suppose the difference is that they can sell them all year round, as I don't recall seeing any dedicated fireworks shops here in NC.

crystal said...

An English friend told me that the fourth of July is what Brits celebrate as their Thanksgiving :-)