I love the Christmas season festivities: Finding and decorating the Christmas tree, shopping for that special gift for a loved one, seeing the bright colorful decorations of homes and businesses, savoring baked treats that only materialize this time of year, listening to seasonal music, watching several of the many versions of Dickens’ “Christmas Carol” and other holiday favorites, and attending Christmas Eve candlelight service. All this is topped off with the family gathering for Christmas morning gift-opening and later sharing the Christmas feast.
This year’s Christmas celebration should be especially memorable. This year Christmas will come in with a bang—literally! As we all know, one of the heralded achievements of Iowa’s 2017 state legislative session was a bill legalizing sale and use of fireworks. The legislation includes some restrictions, such as limiting the use of fireworks to two specific times of the year. One open period, of course, is around July 4th when shooting fireworks is a tradition. The other time is during the Christmas/New Year holiday season. Although not as common as the Independence Day celebration, fireworks often are included in New Year’s Eve festivities. But the time period cited in the bill begins Dec. 10 and extends through Jan. 4. Get ready to see and hear fireworks on Christmas Eve.
Here’s the rub: Although legalizing the sale and use of fireworks was generally favored by Iowans, the fireworks free-for-all that occurred last summer could have raised Marley from the dead, and resulted in many Iowans having second thoughts about the new law. Night after night of booming noises leading up to July 4th were taxing for the elderly, for pets and their owners and for those with non-traditional work schedules attempting to get a few hours of sleep. Now, as Christmas nears, can we expect the night sky to be filled not with twinkling lights and lilting carols, rather with blinding flashes and ear-splitting booms? What were our state legislators thinking?
Many of you will respond that they were not thinking. Or if they were thinking, they were focused on the contributions to their campaign funds by the fireworks industry. That also was my initial reaction, especially for allowing fireworks use over Christmas. But I later learned from an anonymous source the real story behind the Christmas fireworks.
Though we may not always recognize it, our state legislature is a hard-working, innovative law-making body. Not long ago, an Iowa state legislator was conducting research on his computer late one night reviewing other states’ fireworks legislation, when he chanced upon a reference to an obscure document on historical events during which fireworks played a prominent role. Thinking the document might provide insight and guidance for a potential fireworks bill, the legislator made an extensive search for it in major libraries. He finally located the document in the U.S. Library of Congress. His interest was piqued by brief reference in the document of an ancient manuscript unearthed in the archaeological dig of the Ephesus library.
The manuscript apparently alluded to three kings who had come through Babylon travelling west following a bright star. They knew they were on their way to a great celebratory event, so they brought with them fabulous gifts of gold, myrrh and frankincense, a story familiar to us all. But there is more to the story which has been lost to history. They also brought with them a more majestic gift, a technological revolution developed by the alchemists of the Far East with power to light up the heavens and glorify any event. Could this gift have been fireworks?
Nothing in the historical accounts mention fireworks being part of the first Christmas; however, we know that the Chinese had invented gunpowder around this time, even though application to fireworks came several centuries later. The three kings were not from China, but coming from farther east they certainly could have had contact with the Chinese and their culture through the trade routes. One can only speculate on whether the kings had acquired gunpowder and brought it with them, and, if so, how they planned to use it. We will never know. Something must have happened to the three kings’ magnificent gift after they left Babylon for there is no further mention of it.
Nevertheless, the legislator said he wanted Iowans to experience the glorious Christmas that the manuscript’s historical account suggests. When asked why his discovery was not made public, he stated that when he searched the Library of Congress for the document again the following day, all traces, including any reference in the cataloging system had disappeared. Was it only a vision, a dream brought on by the late-night pepperoni pizza and beer? He was afraid to publicize it without proof of its existence, but it was such a grand vision he continued to work toward ensuring that Iowans would finally have the superb bang-up Christmas they deserved.
Well, far be it from me to discourage innovation, or is it tradition? Whichever it is, like Scrooge, I will live in the past, present and future of Christmas. Maybe this year — instead of a candlelight service we should have a fireworks service. Goodbye silent night, and God bless us, every one.
Pete Korsching is an Iowa State University Emeritus Professor, a Nevada resident and a freelance columnist for the Nevada Journal.