A SHEW OF ILLUMINATION | Why 4th of July Fireworks matter to me

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originally published in Northern Express


For anyone with an overactive love for snow, they can still find a dirty pile of winter stubbornly refusing to melt. But there is reason to believe that this seemingly never-ending season is in fact behind us. I ask you to look ahead a bit, I ask that you think about where you will find yourself on the Fourth of July? What will we all be talking about on that day?

“What time do they start? How long do they last?’

Fireworks. Love them or hate them, Fourth of July fireworks are as American as, well, the Fourth of July fireworks.

Why 4th of July Fireworks are important

It doesn’t matter who is in the White House or how high taxes are, the Fourth of July is not a celebration of our country’s current state of affairs. No, on this day, we celebrate the bravery of the colonists led by our founding fathers who declared independence from the British Crown. The freedom fighter colonists, who without an army said, “Hell no!”

In 1776, the colonists celebrated their revolutionary spirit, shooting muskets into the air. Yes, that would make a tidy tale of history. But no, that is not why we have fireworks on the Fourth. You can thank fun-loving (actually not a real party kind of guy) John Adams.

While waiting for the final document to be formally written as voted upon, Adams sent word from Philadelphia to his wife, Abigail, in Boston of the grand news. Not knowing that the Declaration of Independence would actually be dated July 4, 1776, he refers to the significance of the day of the vote, July 2nd:

“(This) the Second Day of July 1776 will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.”

I can’t tell you what a “Shew” is, but I know my “Illuminations”: Fireworks! Actually yes, I can tell you, “Shew” is goofy colonist talk for a Show. A fireworks show, indeed!

On each and every July 4, the aforementioned succeeding generations put aside their politics and celebrate our independence and the birth of our nation with parades and fireworks and picnics and cherry pie. Boom! Boom! Pomp!

In 2011, Traverse City’s Fourth of July fireworks show was in serious peril. It would, in fact, be discontinued. The majority of supporting or contributing organizations could no longer pull it off. They had more pressing concerns. Fireworks are very expensive and very short lived.

I remember arguing, “But it’s the fireworks!” Not having fireworks on the 4th of July would be like sleeping in separate bedrooms on your wedding night.

And so, it was a small but mightily pissed-off group (Have you seen my fife anywhere?), in late June 2011 that said, “Hell no!” Today, that group is the Traverse City Boom Boom Club. Each and every town across northern Michigan with a Fourth of July fireworks display struggles to keep it going because it is a darn expensive Shew of Illumination.

But it is important. It doesn’t matter who you voted for if you live in a big city or a small town if you were born here or became a citizen, the concept (and conception, for that matter) of our nation is symbolically celebrated with the tradition of community fireworks.

And so I ask that you consider where you will watch the Big Shew this year. Frankfort? Northport? Traverse City? I suggest you find out who organizes them, how they are paid for, and how you can help out.

For the last seven years, I have watched fireworks with the contributing members of the TC Boom Boom Club from our party at the Open Space. Honestly, I’m not really much of a fan of fireworks. I appreciate them, but during the show, I’m not even looking at the sky much.

I’m watching men discretely wipe away the tears they unexpectedly shed. I’m watching the illuminations reflected in the large eyes of small children. I’m watching the old man sneak a smooch as he pulls his wife close and smiles. I’m watching members of the crowd realize they still have their hands over their hearts from the opening notes of The Star Spangled Banner ten minutes ago. And I cry, sloppy-snotty style.

This weighty moment, on a hot July night, catches you by surprise. You think you’re at a summertime festival, but the patriotic spirit moves through the humid air, and it just happens. We choke up. It is my favorite moment of the entire year, my personal Christmas morning: seeing my neighbors fall in love, as deeply as they have ever felt love, with their country and countrymen.

Worth. Every. Dollar.

Mary Keyes Rogers is a writer, blogger, and podcaster with Experience50.com. As a public speaker, she always asks to be introduced as “a founding member of the Traverse City Boom Boom Club, because it is important.” www.tcboomboom.org

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