Fireworks like ‘setting fire to piles of money’

Up in smoke: The first record of fireworks dates back 2000 years ago to China. © Getty

Is lighting fireworks a bit like burning money? Councils looking for cuts are targeting traditional displays. But the tradition of “beautiful extravagance” has a long and important history.

What’s happening

For the third year in a row, residents of Pype Hayes in Birmingham will not have a local fireworks display. The event used to attract thousands of families, but it has been cancelled again due to budget cuts. Large professional displays can cost between £3,000 to £200,000, depending on their size.

Find out more

“Remember, remember the fifth of November / Gunpowder, treason and plot…”

Over 400 years ago, in 1605, a disenchanted Catholic called Guy Fawkes was found in a cellar under the House of Lords, preparing to light 36 barrels of gunpowder. The explosives would have blown up parliament while King James I was inside. Fawkes and fourteen others were executed as traitors.

The anniversary of the foiled terrorist plot became a national holiday, and has been celebrated ever since. Today, this means lighting bonfires and setting off fireworks.

But those events are very expensive to run, especially for large groups of people. And after a few minutes of colourful explosions, the show is over. To some, this feels like burning money. Is it worth it?

Some say…

No. Fireworks displays may be fun for one night of the year. But it is not fair to literally blow up hundreds of thousands of pounds when hundreds of thousands of people in the UK are hungry or homeless. We would be outraged if £20 notes were burned for a bit of fun. Fireworks displays are over so quickly that is essentially the same thing.

Others think…

There is nothing wrong with being extravagant occasionally. Fireworks are spectacular — they bring joy to people, especially children. The medieval church was accused of wasting money on expensive cathedrals, but now those buildings are cherished. The tradition of bonfire night should be celebrated for the same reason, no matter how much it costs.

You Decide

  1. Are fireworks a waste of money?

Activities

  1. Imagine that you are in charge of your local council. You have £10,000 to spend on holidays for the year. This might include bonfire night, Diwali celebrations, Christmas decorations, Easter egg hunts, and so on.
  2. Decide how much you would spend on each holiday, and what you would hope to spend it on.
  3. Compare your choices with the rest of your class.

Some People Say...

“There is nothing wasteful about making people happy.”

What do you think?

Word Watch

£3,000
According to the company Reaction Fireworks, parish councils spend between £3,000 and £6,000 each on displays set to music.
£200,000
According to the same company, big displays at the London Eye or by Edinburgh council can cost between £30,000 to £200,000.
Disenchanted
Disappointed. England changed from a Catholic to a Protestant country in 1533 under Henry VIII.
House of Lords
One of Britain’s two houses of parliament.
King James I
The first king of both England and Scotland. He had united the crowns in 1603.
Co-conspirators
In total, 14 people were caught and killed for the plot.

Subjects

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