Where exactly does this country’s fascination with the 4th of July fireworks come from?
We all learned in elementary school that the Declaration of Independence was written primarily by Thomas Jefferson between June 11 and June 28, 1776. This remarkable treatise outlining the reasons for our country’s desire to be free from domination British was then signed by members of Congress on July 4, 1776.
Jefferson and the other minds behind the Declaration of Independence, John Adams and Benjamin Franklin, believed that this day should be remembered for generations to come. By the way, Adams and Jefferson actually died on the same date within hours of each other – July 4, 1826.
Adams expressed his enthusiasm for the celebration of the date of the ratification of the Declaration of Independence as a national holiday in a letter to his wife, Abagail. At the time, Adams believed that day would be July 2.
Adams wrote: âI am inclined to believe that it will be celebrated, by subsequent generations, as the great anniversary festival. It should be commemorated, like the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to Almighty God. It should be celebrated with Pomp and Parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations across this continent from now on for always.
Of it all, we ended up with a fireworks display on July 4th. Most awesome displays are professionally and securely orchestrated. But as anyone who has lived in Johnson City long enough will know, illegal backyard displays of patriotism are just as common.
I can’t help but wonder if all this fireworks hype that was started by former settlers celebrating their independence could have been rooted in the very British custom of observing Guy Fawkes Day.
Most Americans are probably most familiar with Guy Fawkes through an elegant mask based on his likeness first made popular in the graphic novel “V for Vendetta”, and later in the 2006 film of the same name. The masks were originally made by the Warner Brothers studio to promote the film.
Fawkes was executed in 1606 for his role in the “gunpowder plot” to overthrow the Protestant government of King James. And I mean literally “bring down” the government. He was captured in the cellars of Parliament with several dozen barrels of gunpowder.
Throughout history, Fawkes has been somewhat of a hero to anarchists, social activists and rebels of all stripes. Over the past few decades, wearing a Guy Fawkes mask at any social event has become almost mandatory. Okay, maybe I stretch it a bit.
Nonetheless, David Lloyd, the artist behind the V-masks for the graphic novel, believes they have become a cultural symbol of rebellion, much like Alberto Korda’s iconic photo of Argentine revolutionary Che Guevara.
The true story of Fawkes is convincing enough (he was hanged, quartered and quartered for his crime), but “V for Vendetta” only added to the mystique of the doomed rebel – even in the United States where Fawkes is not very well known.
The celebration of Guy Fawkes Day (observed on November 5 – the date in 1605 when he was captured under Parliament with his gunpowder) was largely discontinued in this country after the American Revolution. The leaders of our nation wanted to keep the new country away from such Old World frivolity.
George Washington also said he thought Guy Fawkes Day was insulting to Catholics.
Even so, I can’t help but think that the founding leaders of this nation had more than a little bit of Guy Fawkes Day in mind when they insisted the celebrations be Independence Day. Fireworks and Guy Fawkes Day were closely linked in the psyche of everyone who grew up hearing tales of a failed rebellion.
The British carried on the Guy Fawkes Day tradition with bonfires, fireworks and burning effigies of the unsuccessful conspirator. Some Americans are undoubtedly puzzled by the idea of ââcelebrating a failed coup. After all, we would never declare a vacation for a loser.
In fact, Guy Fawkes Day is more about the government wanting people to remember what happens to traitors. Poems have been passed down from generation to generation warning that betrayal is never forgotten.
There’s a traditional English nursery rhyme that says the same: âRemember, remember November 5th Gunpowder, Betrayal and Conspiracy. I see no reason why gunpowder betrayal should ever be forgotten.
Just think: if this country hadn’t won its war for independence, today we might recite poems reminding children of the great folly of men like Washington, Jefferson, and Adams who dared to challenge King George. .
As it stands, Washington, Jefferson, and Adams are remembered today as winners, champions of the people, and builders of this great nation. And as Adams envisioned, our independence is as good a reason as any to start some fireworks.
But unlike some Johnson City residents, who don’t need an excuse like July 4th to illegally start fireworks inside city limits, I usually try to resist the pyrotechnic impulses. . I know this doesn’t exactly match Guy Fawkes’ rebellious spirit, but anarchy just isn’t my thing.
And as history tells us, Fawkes and his co-conspirators weren’t very good either.