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The Garden Gate: Have yourself a blast with celebrations in July

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By Ellen Probert Williamson

By the time the United States of America declared its independence from the British Empire, John Adams and some of his contemporaries called for fireworks to celebrate the occasion, and we have been doing likewise ever since.

No one knows with certainty just when or where fireworks came into being. Most historians believe they were invented in ancient China in about the second century B.C., at the time of discovery of gunpowder.

According to ancient scholarly records, the discovery was an accident. Legends says that someone threw what they thought was salt into a cooking fire, and the resulting bright colored flames led to the making of fireworks.

The Chinese believed that loud explosions would frighten away evil spirits, so they incorporated fireworks into the celebrations of weddings, religious ceremonies and observing victories in war.

At about the same time, the use of fireworks spread to the Islamic areas of Asia. It was the Arabs who perfected the use of gunpowder.

Some time in the 15th century, gunpowder technology changed somewhat when, by chance, some wet gunpowder dried into a hard mass.

Thought to be ruined, it was thrown away. But someone decided to just grind it up. And so it was discovered that this was an improvement over the old form and easier to store.

By 1040 A.D., the Chinese were adding some chemical color pigments to create a type of fireworks along the same lines as the ones we have today.

The ancient Romans knew about fireworks, too. Roman soldiers were using them to frighten their enemies in 70 A.D., and the Germans were doing this, too, by 670 A.D.

The first Europeans, descendants of the Romans, made fireworks on a really large scale until the end of the 17th century.

Italian fireworks were used all over Europe to mark great occasions. Even the earliest settlers in the New World used fireworks for special occasions and, incidentally, to frighten the Indians on occasion.

Most of today’s fireworks are made in factories, where they are assembled and packed by hand in a simple-but-dangerous system. Modern fireworks have much the same list of ingredients the Chinese used centuries ago, when the first fireworks were made of bamboo.

Until the 16th century, people who made or displayed fireworks were called firemasters.

July is a celebration month. In France, the commemoration of the taking of the Bastille on July 14 is observed as a turning point in the 18th-century French Revolution.

We all celebrate summer in July with vacation trips, camps and in our gardens.

July is usually a month of hot, humid days and nights, fireworks and celebrations, picnics and swimming pools.

Many of the flowers of July are, appropriately enough, red, white and blue, almost as if nature is celebrating America’s Independence Day, too.

In some municipal gardens, flower plots are arranged in the shape of flags, with the appropriate colors of floral blooms planted in stars and stripes.

But in many gardens, there are borders of red, white and blue, as are so many of the flowers of July . It seems as if the world of horticulture bows in deference to our national patriotism.

Flowers have always been used to symbolize and signify ideas and emotions. In the Chinese flower calendar, the lotus is the flower for July and summer. The Japanese, however, give credit to the mountain clover as the calendar flower, and as the symbol of domestic virtue.

The flowers of July sometimes silently echo the noisy colors of the fireworks displays we all love to see.

There are the brilliant reds of cannas and redhotpokers, the blues of larkspur, and the whites of syringa, magnolias and some daisies.

 July is a month of celebrations historically, patriotically and even religiously, and for just plain summertime fun.

Don’t forget the picnics, including swimming pools, thunderstorms, watermelons and corn-on-the-cob.

Even the fashionable hairstyles of the day are called bangs!
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Ellen Probert Williamson lives in Kingston. Her column appears regularly in the Roane County News.