July 4th Fireworks: 4 Unexpected Origins Of an American Tradition


I hate to break it to you, America, but while we consider fireworks as American as apple pie and The Star Spangled-Banner, they actually had their origins in China roughly 2,000 years ago. I know, it's disappointing, because American culture is usually associated with pointless, dangerous, shiny and loud objects. But even though we didn't invent them, we still enjoy them. Thank you China, for making our Fourth of July celebrations so much better.

1. Their discovery was supposedly a culinary accident

Fireworks were invented in China some 2,000 years ago, and while there is no official story, my favorite is the legend of the cook who combined saltpeter, sulfur, and charcoal over a fire. Some versions of the story say that he "accidentally" spilled saltpeter on the stove, resulting in a deafening bang.

2. They were originally made out of bamboo

The first fireworks were merely bamboos thrown on fire, which exploded and scared the living daylights out of nearby animals. Later on, gunpowder was added and proto-firerockets were born. Apparently, blowing people to pieces is so much more satisfying than scaring the living daylights out of nearby animals. Who knew bamboos had such violent properties? 

3. Their original intention was to frighten evil spirits

This strategy obviously did not work on the deaf evil spirits.

4. They were an integral part of celebrating New Year

The biggest holiday of the year in the Chinese calendar is New Year, and to commemorate the event, one lights as many fireworks and firecrackers as possible. When I studied abroad in Taiwan, I found you can go into to a store anywhere and buy them, which was baffling. Taiwan's just about one the safest countries in Asia (and the world) but you can legally buy explosives almost anywhere during New Year's.