There was a time when you could probably have asked British children of a certain age what November makes them think of and fireworks, November 5th and Guy Fawkes Night would be sure to feature. For children now, the hype of Halloween and use of fireworks all year round has blurred the distinction between this and other days. Much like we would struggle to tell the season by the food on our plates or Christmas decorations in the shops in August, we have perhaps lost the essence of what makes special occasions different. Of course once children realise that Bonfire Night does take place in November, their excitement and enthusiasm is tangible. This got me wondering what it is about this occasion that forges such rich memories and strong feelings in the young and old?
I doubt we give our senses a thought when we wrap up in coats, hats and gloves and bundle outdoors to enjoy a pyrotechnic display? But behind the scenes it’s likely to be the sensory dimension of the experience, as well as the sense of occasion, which helps hardwire memories so effectively. Watching fireworks burst onto an inky night sky and mutate into a multitude of patterns, it’s difficult not to be impressed and awed by these beautiful man-made creations. Fireworks are a visual feast. Some spread like delicate fingers dipped in luminous paint arcing across black paper. Others blossom like exotic blooms captured in time lapse, whilst sparklers trace magic letters in the air, casting a warm glow on beaming faces. The crackle of the bonfire, fizzle of Catherine Wheels and the “oohs and “aahs” of crowds are punctuated by the whoosh of rockets and surprising bursts of sound as bangers do what they do best. The smell of spent fuses, burning embers and BBQ aromas/food fill the air. Then there’s the warmth of the bonfire and tickle of ash on the cheek.
Occasions like this are a sensory fusion of sights, sounds, smells and tastes - a heady cocktail that forges experiences deep within the memory. As babies we learn by seeking out pattern and spotting novelty and change, something which continues throughout childhood. As adults though, our perspective shifts as we focus on the bigger picture. This is essential if we want to avoid getting bogged down by the everyday profusion of sensory stimulation. Fireworks of course can be appreciated on both levels, from the detail of the individual firework to the macro scale of the patterns created in big public displays. Both are simply amazing for children, big and small. Stood with neck craned looking skyward at the huge spectacle unfold, it’s easy for adults to be transported to days gone by and feel once again like children.