Fireworks: Reflections on NYC Waterfront

Watching an inspirational Fourth of July fireworks display bursting into color over Lady Liberty in the New York Harbor seems to be as American as apple pie.  Yet, the origins of fireworks are as distant as the Far East.

Most historians credit Daoists in the Han Dynasty era as being the original creators of fireworks (over India and the Middle East). It’s no wonder then that the magical qualities of fireworks, which delight the senses and stir the spirit, were borne of this ancient mystical religion.

When emperors of the Han Dynasty (206 BC–220 AD) desired to find a way to live forever, they turned to the Daoists. These spiritual leaders – who studied the science of internal and external alchemy – began searching for elements, and experimenting to create an elixir to fulfill their emperors’ wishes.  

While achieving eternal life alluded Chinese royalty, discoveries made by those Daoist’s – sulfur and potassium nitrate – later became explosive when mixed with charcoal and thrown into an open fire (approx. 600 AD – 900 AD).

Technical improvements were made over time to improve upon this earliest form of fireworks. The three materials and other ingredients were inserted into hollowed-out bamboo stalks which would catapult high into the air after being heated, and explode into a flurry of sparks.

Eventually, the Chinese transformed their fireworks into munitions to use aggressively against their enemies, constantly innovating techniques and technology. Their innovations created the first form of gunpowder and rudimentary rockets which could be launched at a distance from their opponents. Their inventions forever changed the landscape of warfare.

As fireworks and gunpowder were introduced and spread throughout Europe, many more advancements were made for both recreational and military use. Colorful fireworks became a part of revelries around the world, eventually making their way into the American experience.

On July 4, 1777, in Philadelphia, a rousing fireworks show helped the fledging nation commemorate its independence from Britain – one year after the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

Today, New York City’s fireworks displays are some of the most impressive throughout the world, with tens of thousands of people gathering to catch a glimpse, and millions more watching on television. Many celebrations’ and special events are observed with fireworks throughout the year, around the city.

Those set off over the East River or Hudson River are some of the most spectacular. The glorious sky of colors reflected in the waters below make for an unforgettable experience to be enjoyed on land or sea.

Fourth of July

The biggest fireworks celebration in New York City, of course, takes place on July 4th. For 40 years, Macy’s has been host to one of the country’s most spectacular shows. Alternating between locations in the Hudson River and the East River (with backgrounds such as the Statue of Liberty or the Brooklyn Bridge, respectively), this star-studded extravaganza thrills with over 50,000 cannons synchronized to match the orchestral backdrop of patriotic songs. The event is seen by scores of live crowds along the shores of New York City and New Jersey, along with thousands more in buildings, and millions more on television.

Since Macy’s annual fireworks show has taken place on the East River in recent years, Freedom and Fireworks Festival in Jersey City has staged their own event over the Hudson River. Watching the event reflected in the Hudson River from a Manhattan vantage point is something not to be missed.

Of course, Fourth of July fireworks along NYC’s waterways can be viewed from the water, as well. There are many boats and cruise lines that offer various packages and voyages leaving from piers throughout New York City and New Jersey.

New Year’s Eve

Bringing in the new year with a firework show gets the year started off with a bang. As an alternative to the crowds in Times Square, there are many New Year’s Eve Fireworks Cruises that offer an elegant evening out on the water. Whether with friends, family, or just that special someone, it’s a celebration of music, dancing, and delicious food.

Revelers spend the entire evening cruising aboard a luxury yacht with the most spectacular views of the NYC skyline and the sparkling Hudson River. After a thrilling firework display over Lady Liberty, they toast the coming of the new year in style.

For a truly unique way to view the New Year’s Eve fireworks, the Brooklyn Bridge Walk into The New Year Tour can’t be beat. The evening starts off with a guided walking tour of the World Trade Center area and City Hall Park. The group then walks to a destination point on the Brooklyn Bridge to share a magnificent view of the fireworks display.

Gay Pride Day 62 Chelsea Piers Fireworks

NYC Pride is a 3-day event celebrating gay pride, civil rights, and the freedom to be who you are. New York City’s Pride celebration – Pride Island – features events, marches, concerts and more throughout all the boroughs. What better way to wrap it up than with an exciting firework show over the Hudson, bursting with all the colors of the rainbow?

Celebrate the lively culmination of this annual fest honoring the city’s LBGT community aboard one of Classic Harbor’s cruise ships. Boats sail down the Hudson to the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, Battery Park and back again to get the best spot right under the fireworks, as “fountains of sparkles fade into the open air above you as glide through their reflections on the water.” Some cruises offer “a few rounds” of complimentary wine, champagne, beer and soft drinks to make the evening even more enjoyable.

Every Day Is a Celebration

There are many other firework shows held throughout the Summer and Fall in New York City. Many feature free performances by NYC orchestras along with other attractions. Some are even held on a regular basis seasonally.

With so much to celebrate, fireworks reflect the diversity and vibrancy of New York City’s culture: loud, colorful, exciting, and always one heck of a show.

Look for next week’s blog, “Parades of NYC: What to See.”

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