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  • In South Africa you can tell when a major celebration is on the way because the talk radio shows light up with calls about the danger and distress to animals, wild and domestic, caused by fireworks. There are regular campaigns to ban fireworks on humanitarian grounds. With several major political, religious and cultural traditions crowding the calendar there are plenty of opportunities for fireworks to be on the agenda. From Guy Fawkes to Diwali, Boxing Day, The Second of January, Heritage Day, Freedom Day, High School Matric dances and, sometimes, just random displays of exuberance. In a nation with a bit of a reputation for wild west type shoot outs it is always a relief to see the arcs and sprays of color and realize it is just fireworks and not an another ATM being blown for its cache of cash.

    In the US, towns host displays on the Glorious Fourth and sometimes at New Years. Then people congregate in parks, along riverfronts or piers, or other less populated and flammable areas to lie back and ooh and ahh in relative safety and remove. Last year, after the State of Maine legalized fireworks, different households on the island set off sedately timed booms and bangs and showers of sparks. It was New England conversational turn-taking in phrases of fire.

    A few years ago, I was in Buenos Aires over the summer holiday. On New Year’s Eve we ate at a Finnish dancer’s flat. Steaks and Malbec on the patio about 6 floors up. New Years in the southern hemisphere is high summer, everyone was in the street or on rooftops or crowding their balconies. In a city of apartment dwellers this means people are stacked in layers, high above the streets.

    You can tell how people feel about the economy, an Argentinian woman said, just by the fireworks, if they are feeling good they buy and it goes on and on, like the city is erupting, if they are worried it is not so much.

    A bit before midnight, the random pops and bangs crescendoed. Rockets and mortars punctuated the night sky and showered the street with sheets of fire. Balconies were bright with roman candles and sparklers. Every building wore a facade of fire.

    In a city of close on three-million in the city proper and closer to thirteen-million in the metro area, a fireworks display issuing from each household is an awe inspiring event.

    The fireworks went on and on filling the night with magic and wonder. It was as if the city roared out its glory and wild-hearted joy to the world, pouring a fiery song to the heavens.

    Regardless of the season or the climate, regardless of condition or culture, we mark days. We mark them on calendars, in street names, in song, in circles of stone and hang them with garlands of flowery fire, lighting the night to say, we endure and we remember.
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