New Year’s Eve and Bonfire Night would be so much less exciting, colorful and noisy without the invention of fireworks.
Gone in a Flash. The earliest type of firework was invented about 2,000 years ago in China, when it was discovered that freshly cut bamboo thrown on to a fire causes a rather loud explosion.
People were soon throwing bamboo on fires to ward off evil spirits. Then the Chinese invented gunpowder and some bright spark had the idea to press this explosive mixture into the bamboo tubes.
The invention of the firecracker, around 1,000 years ago, has been credited to a monk called Li Tian, who packed the gunpowder mixture into paper tubes. The Chinese continued to develop fireworks as they became a popular form of entertainment, and by the 13th century Europe had got in on the act. Queen Elizabeth I liked them so much that she created the position of ‘Fire Master of England’. James II knighted his Fire Master.
Ancient Chinese fireworks weren’t multi-colored: they were all yellow. They had to rely on amazing shapes and loud bangs to make them spectacular and exciting.
It wasn’t until 1800 that a French chemist called Claude Berthollet discovered potassium chlorate, which made different colored fireworks possible. Today fireworks continue to be enjoyed all over the world, and China is still the biggest manufacturer and exporter of them.
Firework face-off: If you want to see a really amazing firework display, go to the next World Pyro Olympics, where firework companies from all over the world compete against one another in a five-day competition.
Fireworks are used in celebrations all over the world. Here is a list of some of the biggest ones.
UNITED KINGDOM, BONFIRE NIGHT
On 5 November 1605, Guy Fawkes together with the other conspirators in the ‘Gunpowder Plot’, attempted to blow up James I and the Houses of Parliament. The plot was uncovered and the perpetrators were executed. So Bonfire Night is actually a celebration of something that never actually happened!
UNITED STATES, INDEPENDENCE DAY
On 4 July 1776, the Declaration of Independence was signed, marking the beginning of self-government in the USA, and independence from Great Britain. It has been celebrated every year since with a national holiday and patriotic displays.
CHINA, CHINESE NEW YEAR
Chinese New Year is the most important celebration in the Chinese calendar and the party goes on for 15 days! The date is based on the first day of the new year containing a new moon, and so t changes every year due to the phases of the Moon. It usually falls either at the end of January or the beginning of February.
Diwali is a five-day Hindu festival that celebrates the triumph of good over evil. It occurs on the 15th day of the Hindu calendar month of Kartika, which falls between mid-October and mid-November. It is also known as the ‘Festival of Lights’ because of the use of small oil lamps to decorate buildings.
ALL OVER THE WORLD, NEW YEAR’S EVE
New Year’s Eve is celebrated on 31 December by the countries that use the Gregorian calendar of 365/366 days. It is the largest party in the world, and although different countries observe their own traditions, fireworks at midnight is a custom adopted by almost all of them.