Fireworks For The Fourth–Boom, Boom Or Bust?

The pandemic brought with it shortages of various items such as toilet paper and cleaning supplies. While TP and Clorox wipes are back on the shelves, something else is now in short supply–fireworks. As a result, the ability to celebrate our nation’s birth in fitting fashion, i.e., lighting up the sky with dangerous pyrotechnics that produce smoke, noise, and color, was an iffy proposition this year. Would it be boom, boom or bust for John Q. Citizen on the Fourth?

When threatened with a scary coronavirus, it makes sense folks would need to disinfect their homes; thus, cleaning supplies sold like hot cakes. But why on earth would fireworks be a hot ticket item? The short answer? Boredom and lack of entertainment. After a quarantinee (is that even a word?) has watched every Netflix movie and series (perhaps more than once), what else is there to do? Why go out in the backyard and shoot off some fireworks for fun.

Statistics reveal the skyrocketing (pun intended) popularity of things that go boom boom The fireworks industry experienced record sales in 2020 with revenue nearly doubling from $900 million in 2019 to $1.8 billion in 2020. With public fireworks shows cancelled thanks to COVID-19, in 2020 Americans were forced to produce their own light shows.

During the pandemic, the demand for fireworks was not, however, limited to the Fourth of July. Customers bought them for various occasions including Halloween, New Year’s, and the Super Bowl too. Nothing releases pent up pandemic frustration than making something explode.

Typically fireworks inventories carry over between seasons. Vendors, however, faced empty shelves and the inability to replenish them after 2020. The shortage of fireworks was not just a problem in the United States; the dearth of available fireworks became a global issue. So, everyone in the world found themselves in the same boat–facing a deadly virus without the ability to set fireworks off as they awaited their fate.

Why was there such trouble keeping shelves stocked with fireworks? Several factors contributed to their scarcity. First, due to the pandemic, fireworks factories in China were shut down. So what if the Chinese cannot produce fireworks? Let’s just say Americans rely on products stamped “Made in China.” More than 95% of the fireworks imported to the U.S. have come from that country for years. In fact, the U.S. obtained 255 MILLION pounds of fireworks from the Asian country last year. That’s lot of bang being bought with American bucks.

While American manufacturers do produce some fireworks, imports have outstripped domestic made for a long time. Uncle Sam isn’t the only one ordering things that go bang from China. That country, which originally invented fireworks, is the largest manufacturer and exporter of fireworks in the world.

In addition to Chinese factories being shuttered, shipping issues add to the inability to get what fireworks are available to the U.S. Global container shortages hamper the ability to ship the fireworks, and only about 70% of ships are currently in operation. Fireworks are classified as dangerous goods (ya think?) and given less allotted space on the freighters which are operating.

Once fireworks arrive in the U.S., hurdles still exist to getting them on the shelves for sale to the public. An insufficient number of dockworkers has led to port delays. Labor shortages in this country in the supply chain, specifically of truckers, further adds to the end result of limited fireworks inventory.

Even if fireworks reach a vendor’s shelf, the product may still not be available in the sense that it is too expensive for purchase. Prices in the U.S. this year were projected to be up 15% to 20% over the cost of fireworks last year. Why the increase? Raw materials in China have risen 5% to 8%. Shipping costs have increased 250% to over 300%. Costs going up may mean Americans can’t afford to send fireworks up to celebrate the event of their choice.

And perhaps a bust with a low supply of fireworks is a good thing. If buying fireworks strains the budget, people will opt to attend public fireworks displays presented by professionals trained in shooting fireworks off safely. But who wouldn’t take care when setting fire to something meant to explode with a big bang? Answer? THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission reported 18 fireworks related deaths not connected with a pyrotechnical company in 2020. Injuries from fireworks sent approximately 15,600 to emergency rooms that same year, an increase in the number of injuries from 2019. So, Americans may be getting older, but they aren’t getting safer when handling things that go boom boom.

Sadly, 2021 brought a high profile death to the news as the result of a fireworks mishap. Twenty-four year old professional hockey player Matiss Kivlenicks, a goalie for the Columbus Blue Jackets, died from chest trauma from a fireworks mortar blast. One minute Matiss was relaxing and enjoying the holiday in a hot tub. The next he was headed to that big ice rink in the sky.

While Kivlenicks’ death received great media attention as it occurred while the Stanley Cup Finals were underway, thousands of others undoubtedly injured hands and fingers, heads and faces, eyes, ears, legs, and arms while shooting off fireworks. While we’ve all heard to watch out for things that go bump in the night, Americans aren’t doing a good job of be careful with things that go boom in the night sky.

Fireworks are universally loved. People are thrilled to watch explosions overhead in the night sky which display light and color. But the current fireworks shortage may be a blessing in disguise. Does every man, woman, and child need to shoot off these dangerous items themselves? Maybe fireworks are best and most safely viewed when set off by professionals. Let’s keep away from the boom boom makers and save ourselves from the bust of physical injury so we can live to celebrate the next occasion calling for pyrotechnics. And if less Americans buy fireworks, less money ends up in the pocket of a large communist country which is at odds with our country. That result may be an occasion to celebrate. Fireworks, anyone?

Just WONDER-ing:

Did you set off any fireworks this year or did you simply attend a public display? Have you or anyone you know been injured by fireworks? If you knew not buying fireworks would reduce the profit to dangerous country, would that affect your purchasing decision?

Don’t Lose Your Head Celebrating Bastille Day!

 

Are you ready for it? The holiday with parades and fireworks, and everyone is sporting the colors red, white, and blue? No, it isn’t the Fourth of July. It’s le 14 Juillet; in English it’s the 14th of July, more familiarly known as Bastille Day. This Sunday the French will storm the streets to commemorate the storming of the Bastille and the birth of their republic. Let’s celebrate with them!

First of all, we should know exactly what we are celebrating. Le 14 Juillet is the French equivalent of America’s Fourth of July. It is France’s national day, formally called la Fete Nationale. For those who have forgotten their world history, July 14th is the anniversary of a mob (no, not the godfather’s mob, a peasant mob) assault on the Bastille back in 1789. The taking of the Bastille marked the start of the French Revolution leading to a new form of government for France. Out with the monarchy!  And off with the king’s head in the process.

So what exactly is the Bastille? “Bastille” originates from the French word for stronghold. The Bastille of Bastille Day fame was a prison in Paris originally built as a medieval fortress. The structure, which had eight towers and was surrounded by a moat, had enough space to hold 50 prisoners. In 1789, the Bastille was known for holding political prisoners on the outs with the royal government headed by King Louis XVI. The prison became the symbol for the Bourbon monarchy’s harsh and oppressive rule of French citizens.

The regular (not royal) French citizens were suffering from severe food shortages at the time. Seemingly oblivious to his subjects’ difficulties, Louis XVI lived a lavish lifestyle in Versailles. His wife, Marie Antoinette, was not too popular either. She was seen as arrogant and uncaring. If she didn’t utter the famous words attributed to her, “Let them eat cake,” she was thinking thoughts along those lines. Personally, I don’t believe Marie Antoinette was quoted correctly. She spoke French after all; she would have said something like “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche” according to historians.

So what’s a ticked off group of hungry, angry French citizens to do? A flash mob! No, not the modern flash mob. A mob of them went marching over to the Bastille to hunt for gunpowder, which causes a flash when a gun is fired. Serendipitously for the seven prisoners being held at the time, the attack on the prison allowed for them to be set free. The governor of the prison was also set free–of his head–by the menacing mob.

King Louis XVI was informed that a revolution was underway. He probably shook his head at the audacity of these peasants. Well, they were audacious all right. A mere week later, on July 21, 1789, the king was beheaded by guillotine in front of a Parisian crowd. The revolutionaries were acting like animals and could have been singing “Louie Louie” for all we know. Louis’ wife, mean old Marie, lasted a bit longer. She was spared for almost three months but was ultimately beheaded by guillotine in the same location that her husband lost both his head and his life.

Bastille Day was not declared a French national holiday until July 6, 1880. Today Bastille Day is a French national holiday; schools and businesses are closed in honor of the big day. Although the holiday is French in origin, observances of the day are not just held in France. French territories such as French Polynesia, Martinique (in the Caribbean), French Guiana (in South America), and Wallis and Futuna (an island group in the South Pacific) celebrate Bastille Day as well.

Even Americans take note of Bastille Day with a number of cities, such as New York, New Orleans, San Francisco, and Milwaukee among others, conducting Bastille Day celebrations. In St. Louis, the Chatillion-DeMenil Mansion holds an annual Bastille Day festival complete with a reenactment of the beheading of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. Hopefully dummy figures and not real actors are placed in the guillotine….

Bastille Day celebrations in France typically begin on Bastille Day Eve with dances. A giant dance party, the Bal du 14 Juillet, is traditionally held in Paris on the evening of July 13th at the location where the Bastille once stood and was stormed. The dance has a different theme each year, and attendees wear costumes and enjoy live music. Nothing like remembering mayhem and bloodshed to put you in a mood for a party, huh?

A huge military parade starts in Paris at 10:00 a.m. on the morning of July 14th. Broadcast on French TV, the parade is led by the French president (currently Emmanuel Macron) and features French jets flying overhead. The French Foreign Legion brings up the rear. Proceeding down the Champs-Elysee, the parade wends its way from the Arc de Triomphe to the Place de la Concorde, the largest square in the French capital. Fittingly, this square, covering 21 acres situated along the Seine River, was the site of many public beheadings during the French Revolution, including Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.

The Bastille Day military parade has been conducted annually since 1880 and is the oldest and largest regular military parade in Europe. Since World War I, the Champs-Elysees has been the venue for the parade. Nevertheless, during the German occupation (1940-1944) General Charles de Gaulle headed the celebration in London.

Apparently Bastille Day has no traditional food associated with it, but the French do enjoy partaking of food on this holiday. Afternoon picnics outdoors are a popular way to celebrate. The French can indulge in wine and cheese indoors or out. It wouldn’t hurt to serve cake just to stick it to the memory of Marie Antoinette, right mes amis?

Bastille Day ends with a bang–literally. Actually, there are lots of bangs heard. These sounds are produced by the huge fireworks show put on by the City of Paris.

I somehow doubt the revelers on France’s national day are thinking  about the rabblerousers storming the Bastille when they see fireworks bursting above them. Maybe the French aren’t so different from Americans. Confess. You weren’t really think about American history while watching bombs bursting in air on July 4th, were you? Let’s not lose our heads, figuratively, when it comes to celebrating a national day. Use that brain in your head to remember what the holiday signifies.

JUST WONDER-ing:

Were you aware of the historical significance of Bastille Day? Would you attend a Bastille Day celebration if one were held in your area? What’s the proper way to celebrate a country’s national day?