Fireworks display is one of the most appreciated moments of a celebration. No matter we speak about sophisticated versions that include designer colors and amazing visual effects, or much simpler versions, fireworks are a source of joy and amazement in cultures all around the world.
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Who do we owe the gratitude for this entertaining invention?
The details of fireworks’ actual origins are lost to history, but it is a certain fact that they are deeply rooted in the Chinese culture which leads to the natural assumption that most probably they took birth here.
During the Han dynasty (~200 B.C.), long before the gunpowder was invented, Chinese people used to throw chunks of green bamboo onto their bonfires for its crackling sound. The practice was meant to frighten an evil spirit called Nian, who they believed to eat crops and people. It did not take long until it became customary for them to throw green bamboo onto a fire during the Lunar New Year in order to scare bad spirits far away thus ensuring happiness and prosperity. Thereafter bursting bamboo (pao chuk), played an essential part to Chinese festivities such as weddings, coronations, and births and lasted for thousands of years till the invention of gunpowder.
Regarding the gunpowder origins there is a widespread legend according to which 2000 years ago a Chinese cook discovered by accident a precursor of the gunpowder by mixing charcoal, sulphur and saltpeter. The mixture burned and when compressed in a bamboo tube, it exploded.
Soon after the gunpowder invention, a Chinese monk named Li Tian, who lived during the Song dynasty is credited to have invented the firecrackers. In the Chinese culture there are many legends constructed around this historic figure considered the ‘’Father of Firecrackers’’. One of it says that the monk set off fireworks to disperse the evil spirits from the east part of the Hunan Province a region where there were floods and droughts every year. After the monk set off the fireworks people lived in peace and prosperity. During the Song Dinasty a temple was built to worship him. Even today, Chinese people continue to commemorate the invention of firecrackers and offer sacrifices to Li Tian on April 18.
Fireworks became known in Europe during the 1300s. It is believed that Marco Polo on one of his many trips to China transported the Chinese black powder to the Middle East where European Crusaders brought it to England. Initially the powder was used for military purposes, but thanks to the Italians’ inclination towards arts and entertainment it became the basis for the type of fireworks we enjoy today.