Fireworks at Christmas

Published 6:27 am Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Mention fireworks and holidays and, naturally, our Fourth of July holiday comes to mind. Almost every city of size has some kind of fireworks spectacular. There is hardly the thought of Christmas, yet, when I was a boy, one of the greatest excitements of Christmas was fireworks.

Fireworks could not be legally bought in our state then, same as now. However, a few weeks before Christmas, our little country store, called Mobley’s, would begin to offer a few varieties of fireworks. I was very naïve at that time. I wonder what else was sold that I didn’t know about?

We called the fireworks “firecrackers” and our favorites were those small ones about an inch long that were called Black Cats. They came in paper packages and were connected by their short string fuses. We liked them because, to use a phrase that is popular today, we got more bang for our buck.

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Mr. Mobley’s store was very limited in what it carried and small packages of Black Cats might have been all the firecrackers he had. That would not have been too exciting in today’s world, and the tradition of fireworks at Christmas might never have been born except for our neighboring state of Alabama.

For some reason, Alabama didn’t have the ban on fireworks, like Georgia. Someone in the family must have traveled to Alabama and brought the contraband to our family. There would be sparklers for the young ones, Roman candles, a devil-chaser or two, some bottle rockets, and, hopefully, a package or two of cherry bombs or TNT bombs.

On Christmas morning, our stockings would have plenty of goodies, like candy bars (always Nestle’s Crunches), tangerines, a wooden paddleball game, and maybe a few packages of firecrackers. Quite a stocking, hey? We would play with or eat everything, but the firecrackers. They would be saved for later, after dark or for war games.

Christmas day was spent having lunch and dinner and exchanging gifts with both sets of families, momma’s side and daddy’s. What a blessing it was to have both sets within a few miles of each other. We really had three Christmases.

The first one was when we awakened at home and found what Santa Claus had brought. Then we went to one set of grandparents for lunch and the other set for late afternoon or evening. We exchanged gifts at each stop and that made for three exciting times.

Once Christmas night arrived, we would probably be down at Granddaddy Roberts’ house impatiently waiting for the fireworks display. It would never rival any Fourth of July celebration and, by today’s standards, it would be quite tame and even boring, but in the old days, excitement was measured differently.

Some of you might be thinking of the danger of fireworks. I guess, even then, someone might have urged caution, but among us kids, caution was thrown to the wind. We wanted to see the Roman candles shoot those balls of fire into the sky. In the beginning, only adults would hold them, but we boys would not be left out.

“Hold ‘em to the side,” someone would say. “They might backfire.”

So, we’d hold them to the side and listen intently as the fire shot out and into the cold night air. Ten shots we counted and each Roman candle was kaput!

The younger cousins would be given the opportunity to hold the sparklers. Sparklers had wire handles and were about 8 inches long. Approximately five of those inches had been dipped in some pyrotechnic composition that, once lit, would emit white sparkles at the end. The sparkles would not burn as they came off the wire and everyone would twirl them and try to make circles or even write a name.

Then there were those bottle rockets that we would stick in the ground or in one of those co-cola bottles that were all around. We would light them and high into the Christmas sky they would go where at their zenith, they would burst into big, round fireballs.

Once, my granddaddy lit a devil-chaser. It was supposed to sort of go in circles on the ground and make all kinds of noise and spew out innocent fire sparkles. He lit it and, instead of going in circles, it looked like it was chasing him. I never saw him move so fast and we all had a great laugh.

Pretty soon, we boys would get into our little packets of Black Cat firecrackers. We were instructed very carefully not to hold onto them very long and, certainly, not throw them at each other. In other words, be careful!

The road was dirt and no one was driving on it on Christmas night. The ditches were deep enough for us to divide up into armies and it wasn’t too long before we were lobbing little firecrackers at each other. No matter what was said to begin with, every game we played ended up as war.

One Christmas we received Army backpacks. We had stuffed our backpacks with all of our Christmas goodies, including our packets of Black Cat firecrackers. It just so happened that my team had good aim and we threw one of our firecrackers at my brother. I don’t know how it happened, but one of the firecrackers happened to go into his pack that was filled with his firecrackers.

All it took was that one firecracker to begin the chain reaction of causing his firecrackers to begin blowing up. He might have had his backpack strapped on pretty good, but once the explosions began to tear his backpack up, he came out of it pretty quickly. Once again, a funny sight and a great Christmas memory.

It’s a wonder any of us boys ever made it out of childhood, but we did. Now we’re grown and have our own children and grandchildren. We sit around talking about the good, ole days and some of the best of all the days were those around this most wonderful time of the year.