• Caitlin Kennedy

Fantastical Fireworks

New Year’s Eve; also known as the night of a thousand bangs, nightmare on dog street or the Great Gunpowder Massacre. Around the world, approximately 27 million fireworks are released on New Year’s Eve, causing an indeterminable number of ooohs and aaaahs (or in the case of dogs, howls and whimpers). We decided to shine a sparkly light on those most prevalent of celebratory things and present the most fascinating firework factoids that you can mull over whilst sipping on mulled wine.

Many historians believe that fireworks were originally developed in the second century B.C. in ancient Liuyang, China. It is thought that the first natural “firecrackers” were bamboo stalks that when thrown in a fire, would explode with a bang because of the overheating of the hollow air pockets in the stalk. The Ancient Chinese civilization believed these natural “firecrackers” would ward off evil spirits.

Sometime during the period 600-900 AD, legend has it that a Chinese alchemist mixed potassium nitrate, sulfur and charcoal and inadvertently stumbled across the crude chemical recipe for gunpowder. Supposedly, they had been searching for an elixir for immortality.

The black, flaky powder that resulted from their accidental concoction was later poured into hollowed out bamboo sticks (and later stiff paper tubes) forming the first man made fireworks.

This “fire drug” (or huo yao) became an integral part of Chinese cultural celebrations. It wasn’t long before military engineers used the explosive chemical concoction to their advantage. The first recorded use of gunpowder weaponry in China dates to 1046 and references a crude gunpowder catapult. The Chinese also took traditional bamboo sparklers and attached them to arrows to rain down on their enemies. On a darker note, there are also accounts of fireworks being strapped to rats for use in medieval warfare.