The shooting arc of light, the deep pop as if from a giant champagne cork – I hold my little son and join the collective gasps of our friends and family as the fireworks trace patterns through the sky.  My cousin and his friend are down at the beach and they take turns lighting the fireworks with a torch.  It’s dark, so we can’t see who is who, but we can see the torch moving around the beach.  The rest of us are up on the cottage deck, watching from a safe distance, safe from the mosquitoes that is, which swarm the path between cottage and beach.  The grown-ups have wine and meltingly delicious cheeses (I’m hooked on a triple-cream brie, and am hoping no one is noticing how much I’m eating).  The children have popcorn, cookies and more cookies.  The surprise hit this year is one made with cornflakes and cashews, which mysteriously is crunchy and chewy at the same time.  The children are over-excited, and they go from talking at top volume (“LOOK AT THAT ONE!!!  THAT’S MY FAVORITE!!!), to reverential silence and gasps.  It’s 9:30, so they’re up past their bedtime, which is just awesomely excellent for all of them, and there is an unlimited supply of treats.  Paradise.

And, let’s admit it, the grown-ups are in pretty fine fettle too.  There’s that cheese.  But perhaps more to the point, we’re delighted to be together, and the fireworks are fun.  They can’t help lifting our spirits up with them as they vault into the air.

We have a habit of thinking that fun has to be spontaneous, but this fireworks party is a great example of planned, even carefully engineered, fun.  My aunt and uncle host this party every year at their cottage.  One of my cousins buys the fireworks early in the summer:  it’s been his job for years and he does it well. He knows how to build from the first pretty pops to the fabulous, colourful crescendo at the end.  From the start of the summer, my aunt and uncle watch for the right time for the party.  It’s got to be at a time when the weather is just right, that is, where it’s been wet enough there’s no fire hazard, but not so wet that it’s a misery to be outside.    When they figure the time is right, they let their closest neighbours at the cottage know the date and time.  A couple of days before, my aunt plans the food and bakes the cookies.  On the afternoon of the party, my cousins go to the beach and carefully plant every firework.

That’s a lot of orchestration.

Then the night arrives, and it all flows in a current of excitement.  Tonight, we ate a yummy dinner of homemade Pad Thai early, so we’d have lots of time to clean up and get ready for the guests.  As soon as the dinner things were cleared off the table, we set it again with the wine, cheese and cookies, which we then all proceeded to steal whenever we thought no one was looking.  When darkness started to fall, the children set up watch for the neighbor’s boats, straining to hear motor or see lights:  it’s tradition to arrive by water, as if the party’s being held in some wilderness-Venice(?).  When we heard the first motor, the kids literally started hopping up and down with excitement.  “People coming!” they sang, “Fireworks!”  And a night of – literally spectacular fun – follows.

Of course fireworks themselves are fun and exciting.  They’re rare and special, they’re beautiful, and we usually watch them in happy collectives of friends and family.  If you haven’t got out to watch some fireworks this summer, look for a chance.  Brave the crowds, let the kids stay up late.

But the message that I’m taking away from this isn’t just about fireworks, it’s that we shouldn’t be afraid to plan fun.  Spontaneous fun is lovely, but we ought not to let ourselves be held for ransom by the idea that we’re supposed just supposed to make it happen.  For one thing, that puts a lot of pressure on us, and who needs that?!  But more to the point, to feel that fun ought to be spontaneous is to overlook that, throughout history, all peoples have always created occasions, big and small, to celebrate and have fun.  It’s just as much a part of being human as eating, breathing and working for a living.

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