It is the time of year again where well-meaning individuals assert that as kind-hearted people we should place the fears of animals and valiant veterans above our antiquated traditions of shooting off fireworks. After all, we don’t want to retraumatize those who have suffered in warzones, or crime-ridden cities. As civilized people, we care about the suffering of our beloved pets, and want to shield them from the noises that make them cower under the covers. There is new technology that lets us create the illusion of fireworks without all that pesky noise and smoke. Streaming services and television provide the means to pipe those shows, complete with rousing music, right into our living rooms. Why can’t the rest of us just be satisfied with these displays and ditch the dynamite?
The Framework of Fireworks
The trouble with this request derives from the key role these fireworks play each year in our national celebration. The first official use of fireworks to celebrate the 4th of July dates back to 1777, while the War for Independence still raged across the thirteen colonies. These yearly celebrations expanded after the War of 1812, and incorporated the Star Spangled Banner, written by Francis Scott Key as he watched helplessly under British supervision while they bombarded Baltimore for more than a full day. Every year since the beginning of the nation we as a people have commemorated the sacrifice, the perseverance, and the providence that led to the birth of this nation with remembrances of these sacrifices. Early on fireworks became the primary means of commemoration. The pageantry has continued for two-hundred and forty-five years, connecting our nation from generation to generation .
Still, in a time of rebooting perspectives on American history jettisoning these smoky, smelly, sonic assailants can appear to be a great idea. Isn’t is just a simple kindness to our furry friends, our gallant vets, and even possibly our planet? Where’s the harm? I cannot help but think of the Israelites and their God-commanded feasts. Passover and the Feast of Booths come to mind when I think of things like the 4th of July.
Passover commemorated God’s deliverance of the Jews from their Egyptian oppressors. The Feast of Booths commemorated God’s guidance and providence as the Jews wandered in the desert for forty years. Both feasts from ancient days required specific reminders of the story. Bitter herbs, unleavened bread, and lamb or living in a tent for several days. Jews gave up the comforts of daily life so they would not forget where they came from, and their blessings.
The United States is not the New Jerusalem, and July 4th is not a religious celebration. Yet, Scripture is there for us to learn from. The thing I keep coming back to is that God didn’t need people to celebrate Him for His sake. All the rules and rituals He laid out in Leviticus and Deuteronomy were for the benefit of His people. There is a reason for these repetitions every year. Scripture is filled with the consequences when the Jews failed to honor their heritage by keeping the feasts and festivals. Their nation forgot who they were, leading to times of trial and tribulation. Israel split into two kingdoms. Both kingdoms fell to invasion, and while the southern kingdom eventually returned from exile, they were never the same. All because they stopped celebrating their heritage.
Bombs Bursting in Air
We don’t set off fireworks on the 4th of July because they are pretty. They aren’t simply an outdated tradition that needs a virtual reboot. The noise is an essential part of the purpose of this national ritual. We sit in fields across the nation waiting for darkness to fall remembering the gift of being born here. We watch as children run around, sometimes at fairs, sometimes in fields, sometimes right in our own backyard. Neighbors reminisce about the times when we watched fireworks when we were young. We perched on our parents shoulders. You know, the ones who fought in battles we will never really understand, so we can celebrate the nation where God planted us.
As the first “whump” shakes up through the soles of our feet something in us stirs. The reminder that all we celebrate this day didn’t come free. Our grilled hot dogs and children running through the dark with sparklers come at a price. From the first July 4th, when fifty-six men put their lives, their families, and their fortunes on the line to birth freedom, blood spilled to build and protect what we have. Through the July 4th ninety years later when we mourned the hundreds of thousands dead even as we celebrated the final rejection of slavery in our national laws. Through two World Wars, the Cold War, and countless guerilla attacks against the ideals laid as a foundation. The cost in blood and tears cannot be counted nor repaid.
Proof Through the Night
Every July 4th we send up fireworks to remember who we are. As the rockets rise faster, closer together, and the smoke thickens around us, our mind’s eye fills with images of the countless brave men and women who gave everything for us to stand here today. The ground quakes under us, like the hoof-beats of a thousand-horse cavalry charge. The crescendo of sonic bombardment tightens our chests. Hearts beating fast, breathless, we stand upon those battle-fields down through the ages, transported by the noise and smell and blinding light of battle for just a moment before settling once again back into our here and now, grateful to all those who have gone before and those who will come behind, to preserve this crazy thing called freedom.
At a moment of division in the nation not seen since the early 1860s we need to remember who we are. More, we need to remember what it cost to make us who we are. And what it continues to cost to keep us free. The noise, the smoke, the blinding, heart-thumping drama of war. Without the commemorative reminders, we’re one step closer to needing a real life refresher.