Tag Archives: fireworks

Windsor/Detroit Friendship Festival

Context:

The informant grew up near Windsor, Ontario in Canada which was right across the US border from Detroit, Michigan. Since the United States celebrates Independence Day on July 4th and Canada celebrates Canada Day on July 1st, the two towns would join to celebrate together at some point over the long holiday weekend.

Main Piece:

“Detroit and Windsor would do this thing, The Friendship Festival, because it was international friendship. And so they would have shared fireworks between, and they would compromise, do, like, whatever day worked out best over the long weekend, but, you know, sometimes it would be on my birthday, which was July 3rd, so it was especially great to go to Windsor and they’d have fireworks for my birthday.”

Analysis:

These two cities were so close to each other and both celebrate a major holiday on the same weekend, so it makes sense that they would join forces. Some other compounding factors include the fact that the drinking age is two years lower in Ontario than in the US, which already made Windsor a popular destination for those slightly too young to drink alcohol in the States. This tradition makes me consider how a folk does not necessarily end at a national border. These towns, only separated by a river and an artificially enforced border, institutionally celebrate their national holidays three days apart. But because their proximity to each other, and therefore their connection, cannot simply be negated by the borders of their nations, they compromise to create a new festival out of the two.

British Celebration of Guy Fawkes Night

Interviewer: So why do you celebrate Guy Fawkes Night?

Informant: It was a big part of my childhood. I remember going to Bonfire Night Parties. So the month prior to the 5th of November, the actual date, families and friends would gather old furniture and sweep up leaves, a lot of fallen leaves, and anything else that could be burned. And we would stack it into a huge bonfire. And then on the night of the 5th of November the community would come together and there would be fireworks and we would light the bonfire. But also during the month prior children would build a ‘Guy’ and a ‘Guy’ consisted of old clothes, that were stitched or pinned together and stuffed with newspaper and leaves to resemble a person. The ‘Guy’. Guy Fawkes. This ‘Guy’ would be carried around the community in a wheelbarrow or old pram, going door to door begging for pennies. “Penny for the Guy”. These children would then take these pennies and purchase fireworks.

Interviewer: That’s kind of irresponsible.

Informant: I know! I was wuss and I hated loud fireworks, so I always purchased sparklers. There was always traditional food served at bonfire night parties: mugs of soup, oxtail, or tomato soup, and sticky Parkin Cake (Ginger cake). Adults always lit the fireworks and the bonfire, but you could throw things on the fire, basically we were pyromaniacs for a night and it was socially acceptable. Another thing that was a tradition, the dummy you made, you would always put a mask on it of a political figure. Typically one you disliked. Part of my memory of the thing, is that you stood as close as you could to the fire so your face was almost blistering and your back was wet and freezing, cuz this is England! Guy Fawkes night was THE THING for us, Halloween was ‘eh’ but Bonfire Night was it, cuz it had fire!

Context: An earlier conversation that was discussing a different English Tradition made my informant remember this part of her childhood.

Background: The informant learned the tradition from her community, there was no one person who taught her about it. She enjoys it because it’s fun. “It only gets remembered if it’s fun”. To her it’s a little “encapsulated perfection” part of her childhood and it captured what it was like to grow up in rural England.

Thoughts: It sounds like a very interesting holiday, the informant seemed to go back to the high energy and joy of that holiday. I personally wish to be able to go to her home town to see this tradition myself.

Hawaiian and East-Asian New Year Traditions

Main Piece:

Subject: So… the first thing I can think of is- I think it’s broadly East-Asian Japanese at least in Hawaii- but on New Year’s Eve up until New Year’s, aside from cleaning the house and leaving the door open to welcome the New Year, you also light fireworks to scare away any bad spirits. So all throughout Hawaii on New Year’s Eve and through New Year’s after at midnight… there’s fireworks going off and it’s like amazing and super fun.

Interviewer: What’s your personal experience with that tradition? Where’d you experience it or learn about it?

Subject: Um… I grew up with it visiting relatives in Hawaii in Oahu. And it’s not specific to any one island. It’s- as far as I know- practiced all throughout Oahu and on the other islands as well.

Interviewer: Does it mean anything personally to you?

Subject: *laughter* Um, yeah it’s kind of… in general the celebration of the New Year… it’s not just the lighting of the fireworks. You gather with all your family, you eat, and there’s Kalua Pig, which is a traditional Hawaiian dish and it’s cooked in an underground oven called an Imu and smoked with tea leaves. Every part of celebrating, whether it’s preparation throughout the celebration or even after when you clean up and you have the Buddha shrines set up for family members- and that’s more Japanese- but they all contribute to something important to the day itself. Everyone has a role. It’s little kids playing with sparklers. It’s old people watching them. It’s all inclusive.

Context: The subject is a Sophomore studying Law, History, and Culture at USC. She is of Japanese and Ashkenazi descent, and a third generation resident of Hawaii.  She is a very close friend of mine, and is currently quarantined at her home in Irvine due to the Coronavirus pandemic. The following conversation happened over a facetime call when I asked her to tell me some traditional folklore connected to her heritage. 

Interpretation: I loved hearing about this New Year’s celebration specific to Hawaiian and East-Asian culture and its existing outside the commerciality of American New Year’s celebrations. The subject seemed to note many traditions which originated across different East Asian cultures. Upon further research, I found there are a number of other dishes specific to different cultures and ethnic groups served during the Hawaiian New Year Celebration, such as eating Sashimi for good luck, or Korean Dduk-Gook, or rice cake soup. Hawaii is one of the most culturally diverse states in America, so there seems to be a lot of mixing of dishes and traditions. I also specifically found the scaring away of evil spirits with fireworks to be very fascinating, because while setting off fireworks is globally practiced, the origin of the practice comes from seventh century China. I thought it significant that Hawaii still recognizes and acknowledges the belief behind the practice. 

Thunder Over Louisville

Main Text:

JE: “Thunder Over Louisville is a 30 minute firework show that takes place over the Ohio river in Louisville, Kentucky. It is the biggest firework show on this side of the planet and the cool thing about is that all the money from the fireworks and that is raised for Thunder Over Lousiville is donated to Kosair Children Hospital. The main reason for the firework show is that it acts as a kick-off to all of the festivities that go on before the Kentucky Derby. It is always exactly a month before the derby at 9:30 to 10:00pm and they also theme the fireworks to music. Like this year it was Disney and then it went to some Dubstep bullshit.”

Collector: “So who goes to this firework show”

JE: ” Well the location in Louisville that this firework show takes place is called Kentuckyanna which is basically the divide between Kentucky and Louisiana marked by the Ohio River division. So the two main states that know the most about this is Kentucky and Louisianna and it is pretty big in both of these places.”

Context: 

JE lives in Mount Washington, Kentucky which is located about 20 minutes from where this firework show takes place in Lousiville. When I asked Jordan why he remembers the show and why it keeps going on every year he said that a lot of people remember this show because it is such a massive firework show and there is nothing else like it in the United States. He also said that

Analysis:

The analysis of this regional lore is going to focus on the area it takes place in and how this piece then functions in response to being preserved over time. The first thing I would like to analyze is why this firework show continues to be put on and I will do this by describing regional and economical demands for it.

Regionally this firework show continues to strive and be put on because people in Kentucky and Luisiana have such a high demand for it. This demand stems from the shared culture amongst those who attend. This shared culture not only acts as a unifying force between two different states but it also allows for people to reminisce at all of the good feelings and times that they have shared together at this place. Thunder Over Louisville also serves as a sort of identity marker for Kentuckians and Louisianians because almost everyone in those states knows about the show, even if they do not attend it. If someone were to go to Kentucky when these festivities for the derby were happening and not know what “Thunder over Lousiville” is, then those people from Kentucky and Louisiana will be able to identify them as an “outsider” or “other” ( which also aids in unification between the people of those states). The music that the fireworks get set off to also can act as a unifying source among individuals at the show who know the music and can share this experience of reminiscing on their childhood and past memories with each other. For example, almost everyone knows at least one Disney song, so putting the fireworks to the melody and beats of Disney songs allows for people in the audience to experience the show in a different way with each other. These unifying forces between this regional group of individuals and their ability to share moments that would not have otherwise been shared leads to such a high demand for the show that it keeps being put on year after year. The people have adopted it and made it their own so that they could enjoy it in only a way that Kentuckians and Louisianans could.

Because the Kentucky Derby is so expensive to go and see, the only people who can really experience the Derby themselves are wealthy, mostly white people, most of whom happen to be in the horse business. By aiming the show to a certain selected subgroup of people, this discriminates against middle and lower class people of all races which causes a huge divide between the amount of Kentuckians and Louisianians who are able to attend because of there large lower class and black population. In response to the expense of the show and that most common people of Louisiana and Kentucky can not attend then the firework show for them serves as a stand in to the Kentucky Derby. This firework show is where people know that they can congregate and celebrate their region with each other and the derby itself, even though they are not at the derby.

To summarize, the unification that Thunder Over Louisville provides for those who attend the show (more specifically to those from Louisiana and from Kentucky) coupled with the “common” people’s only opportunity to experience the excitement of the Derby without attending it in person keeps this regional show surviving and thriving year after year.

Origin of Chinese New Year Fireworks

Informant:

M, a 21-year-old, Chinese male who grew up in Beijing until he turned 17 before moving to the United States. He now lives in Los Angeles, California, and attends the University of Southern California with his girlfriend who is from Southern China.

Background info:

M’s first language was Mandarin. His family spoke Mandarin and he only learned English before moving to the United States. Because he grew up in Beijing, he believes himself to be fairly knowledgeable about the folklore that every day people participate in. This is one of the Chinese traditions in their household.

Context:

This is a Chinese tradition that M’s family would participate in during the Lunar New Year in Beijing. Because he was close with all his family, he and his younger sister would often have to do these traditions twice a year, once with their mother’s side of the family and again with their father’s side. This was told to me during a small get-together at his house. The following is a transcript of the piece as told by M.

Main piece:

“Lunar New Years is a big deal in China, so my grandmother… my grandmother on my mother’s side… has three daughters, and each other my cousins all come back for Lunar New Years, so we are all pretty close. So… traditions, right? Lots of people know that China does fireworks during the Lunar New Year celebration, but like here and Japan people get together to watch the fireworks that are like set up by some organizations. Uh, in Beijing, people set up their own fireworks, and everyone in the city participates, so it sounds like the city is in the middle of a war. Millions of fireworks go off from like midnight until like five in the morning and you won’t be able to sleep. So, the folklore behind firing off fireworks is that in Chinese stories about Paganism, there is a monster that is called Nian, which has the same sound as the word year. Nian, year, New Year, you know? So like this monster goes around eating people and stuff and the people don’t know what to do. They decided that they are going to launch explosive fire-powder into the sky to scare it off. It worked, and now that is why we call a year a year, because it is named after Nian the monster. Now, it has become less about that and more people do fireworks because they are fun, but my mother would always tell us that before we could go out and light them. We had to know that there was a reason to like play with explosives.”

Thoughts:

I like that his parents would make sure that the kids knew why a tradition exists before allowing them to participate in them. I think that it is interesting that they place a lot of importance on the folklore behind this tradition, while in the United States, the average parent does not explain why we celebrate the fourth of July. Kids learn about it in school, but that almost takes away from the tradition because it is taught institutionally, rather than organically. I was most intrigued to learn that the word year in Mandarin is pronounced the same as the creature in the story. It shows just how much society takes from folklore.