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Chinese New Year – let’s celebrate with firecrackers

January 24, 2012

It’s Chinese New Year. My childhood memories of Chinese New Year includes firecrackers – the sound, the smell of it…..
Hard to describe – the sight of a crowd watching firecrackers being fired off, watching the rocket types shoot into the air, getting the ear drums blasted by the deafening sounds and followed by the smell of explosives in the air. It certainly adds flavour to celebrations and is used in so many countries to celebrate so many events and festivals. But this is something of the past for Singapore since the import, sale and use of firecrackers is banned in Singapore.

Firecrackers and Chinese Tradition

Firecrackers are called pao zhu in Chinese meaning “bamboo explosions”. In ancient China, bamboo stems were burnt to create small explosions in order to drive away evil spirits.  The din created by the firecrackers was believed to dispel the evil spirits. In later times, the lighting of firecrackers signalled a joyous occasion and became an integral aspect of the Chinese New Year Eve’s celebrations.

Here is a video I found on Youtube that gives you the sight and sound of firecrackers that are commercially available in some countries.

Firecracker video.

History of Firecrackers in Singapore

Firecrackers were very popular in Singapore during the 1960s. They were lit during the festivities of all races and religions including Christmas Eve, Deepavali and Hari Raya. Firecrackers, however, was banned in Singapore in 1972 after two policemen were attacked on New Year’s Eve as they attempted to prevent celebrants from letting off firecrackers without a permit. The permit system had been set up after Chinese New Year celebrations in 1970 caused 6 deaths and at least S$500,000 in damages. A fine of S$5,000 or/and imprisonment of up to 2 years can be imposed for the possession or discharge of fireworks under the “Dangerous Fireworks Act”.

In 1988, there was a huge increase in the number of complaints made regarding firecrackers being let off despite the total ban. 1988 was the year of the dragon, an auspicious year according to the Chinese zodiac, and many celebrated it accordingly by discharging fireworks. This led to harsher penalties put in place – the fine and jail term was increased and caning was added for importing or selling fireworks.

Firecrackers and Eye Injuries

Firecrackers can cause serious eye injuries which can cause a loss of vision. These injuries can be caused by both blunt and penetrating trauma to the eyes. The crackers contain carbon, sulphur and other chemicals which can cause chemical injury and the heat from the explosives can cause burns to the eyelids and the eye.

The rocket type of cracker is especially dangerous since its path is unpredictable and can hit a bystander when he is least expecting it. The velocity and ingredients of the cracker can cause severe injuries.

Doctors can only try to repair the eye but extensive damage can still lead to blindness.

Firecracker injury, 2012 New Year celebration in Manila

If firecrackers are allowed in your country, please take these precautions:

  • Do not allow young children to play with fireworks. Children cannot understand the danger involved and cannot act appropriately in case of an emergency.
  • Older children should only be permitted to use fireworks under adult supervision. Don’t allow any running or horseplay.
  • Light fireworks outdoors in a clean area away from houses, grass and other flammable materials.
  • Do not relight or handle malfunctioning firecrackers.
  • Be sure that other people are out of range before lighting firecrackers.
  • Never ignite firecrackers in a container, especially glass or metal ones.

In case of an eye injury

  • Do not press the eye with the hand or tie a cloth across the eye. This can cause undue pressure on the eye. Use a cup as a shield. .
  • In case of a chemical injury, wash the eye well with clean water .It is better to avoid washing eyes in case of mechanical injuries.
  • Do not neglect any eye injury, however trivial it may look. It is always better to get it assessed by an eye doctor.

I miss the sight, sound and smell of firecrackers. Not that I need to see it everyday but it certainly adds flavour to the occasion. But they were banned for good reason….

Happy Lunar New Year! 🙂

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