The New Face of an Ancient Tradition

Fireworks are not something humanity was ever meant to give up easily. The inevitable question almost instantly comes to mind: Why should we? For centuries, they have been associated with joy and celebration. Ever since televised broadcasting started (in colour), televisions around the world have shown some of the world’s most iconic cities competing in the “Who has the biggest/best fireworks on New Year’s Eve” category, not to mention other, more solemn occasions, unique to countries and regions, such as the great many independence day celebrations, Diwali, Guy Fawkes Night, the world’s many festivals and holidays.

Sylwester w Krakowie (Wawel Royal Castle, Dec 2018)

Sydney: Tradition vs. Thoughtfulness

Despite the raging bush-fire crisis in Australia and the global discussion whether to introduce (more) restrictive laws on fireworks in cities worldwide, Sydney’s iconic fireworks show got a green light from authorities. Given the magnitude and the scale of the environmental catastrophe, not to mention the 18 people confirmed to have been killed by the bushfires, it’s hardly surprising the final decision should have been (at least!) preceded by a heated media debate.

To give you an idea of the scale of the destructive fires, the skies over New Zealand are reported to be ‘eerie’ yellow, despite the staggering distance of 2000 km from the source of fire!

Paving the Way in Europe: Germany?

In Europe, Germany shows a clear sway in the public sentiment, against fireworks, despite the country’s long-standing traditions. About 30 cities and municipalities have already either completely or partially banned the used of private fireworks on New Year’s Eve, including Berlin, Hamburg and Munich.

While historic capitals across the continent continue to advertise their iconic fireworks displays (e.g. Eiffel Tower in Paris, London Eye in London), the inevitable question remains: will enough people take any private-use-fireworks bans seriously to solve any of the real problems they cause.

Kraków: “We Stopped in 2013”

In 2013, the City of Kraków stopped organising its iconic fireworks displays on New Year’s Eve. The last official fireworks with the city contributing to the spectacle took place in June 2019, on the occasion of the 19th Great Dragon Parade, at the foothills of Kraków’s iconic Wawel Royal Castle, as well as during Wianki, the summer solstice festival with ancient roots, celebrating music. As always, both events gathered thousands of spectators.

Dragon Parade in Krakow (June 2019)
Parada Smoków w Krakowie

New Year’s Eve in Kraków (“Nowy Rok w Krakowie”)

Every year, the city authorities encourage residents to refrain from the use of fireworks citing a number of reasons, including safety and the traumatising effect on animals.

Unless a decision is taken to ban fireworks altogether or restrict their use to a very small number of city-organised events, the private use of such celebratory pyrotechnics will likely continue more or less uninterrupted. To give you an idea about the scale, this is a short video from Kraków, recorded two days ago, at midnight.

Seeing this footage, what is your instinctive reaction, are you in favour or against private fireworks in cities? There are, of course, great many arguments presented by both sides of what is increasingly becoming a heated public debate. Here are a few obvious candidates.

Private Fireworks: The Impact!

To start with, they actually do have a traumatising effect on animals, starting from your pets at home, responding nervously to sounds of explosions throughout the night, all the way to the complex ecosystems of birds living in your city. Continuing in the state of impervious denial about this issue can hardly be described as anything more generous than plain ignorance. Then, there’s the obvious category of safety hazards, children “playing with fire” and dozens of accidents resulting in serious injuries, even disabilities, not to mention property fires.

To take a broader perspective, U.S. figures alone are food for thought. According to the National Fire Protection Association, “fireworks start an average of 18,500 fires per year in U.S. alone, including 1,300 structure fires, 300 vehicle fires, and 16,900 outside and other fires. In 2017, U.S. hospital emergency rooms treated an estimated 12,900 people for fireworks related injuries”.

Last but not least, the bright side!

The pluses of using fireworks are perhaps much easier to fathom for many. First of all, they are very much part of tradition, centuries old in this case. Skeptics might add that so is eating Fugu in Japan, climbing in Himalayas, where there is barely enough oxygen to breathe for minutes, or diving to dangerous depths without any safety provisions. Who says humanity has a credible record for “playing it safe”?

Then, there’s the primeval power of fire, associated with warmth, light, food, community spirit, dancing, joy, celebrations and dozens of other things, that have a separate word in the world’s cultural vernacular, i.e. rituals, customs and traditions.

Fireworks: Your Verdict?

So what’s your opinion, are you FOR or AGAINST the use of private fireworks in cities? Is it like driving a car, where a license and a set of rules must be imposed for everyone’s benefit, or is it more a question of our freedom of cultural expression?