Fired Up (ÁA)

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asta02_dlThe thunderous explosion of the bomb shattered the silence, making everyone jump with fright.

The entire neighborhood felt the force, witnessing the subsequent flash of light illuminating the dark January sky.

The baby, fast asleep in her cradle, awoke with a start. Frightened by the noise, she began sobbing uncontrollably.

Just as she was ready to resume her slumber, her tiny heart no longer pounding in her chest, another bomb went off.

And then another one.

And another one.

At midnight, things had finally quieted down. But the threat of another loud boom loomed in the air.

This scene did not take place in a war-torn city, as one might imagine.

It took place in Reykjavík—the quiet and quaint Vesturbær district, where I live with my husband and 16-month-old daughter.

And the explosions were fireworks. 

The Icelandic tradition of celebrating the New Year by shooting fireworks has always perplexed me.

Usually, the only ones who wish one another a happy new year when the clock strikes twelve are small children and the elderly.

The rest of the party is outside, in their parkas with their goggles, treading ice and snow to either light the bombs or watch someone else do so.

Please don’t get me wrong. I love fireworks. I really do. The way they light up the evening sky is a breathtaking experience, which I think lays in the fact that it provides a beautiful shared experience.

Usually the fireworks display is the accumulation of festivities, for example a town festival, a wedding, or an outdoor concert. The Reykjavík Culture Night fireworks display has earned its place among the highlights of the year.

And on December 29, my local sports team KR organized a spectacular fireworks display on the waterfront, creating a wonderful sense of harmony for the community.

But these are left to people who know what they are doing.

Should the average Joe really be allowed to fire massive bombs into the air? Often surrounded by children? And more often than not inebriated?

Is there any other nation on this planet that spends their New Year’s Eve in this manner?

The fact that they are sold as the main source of fundraising for Iceland’s search and rescue teams adds another peculiar twist. Of course, I want this organization to earn funds for their invaluable operation but isn’t there some other way to go about it?

In makeshift stores, they sell a wide range of bombs and fireworks, named after various Viking heroes. Go figure.

Selling fireworks is also a popular fundraising method for local sports clubs.

If you only wear the flimsy plastic goggles, everything will be all right. Or so they say.

Actually that is not really the case.

Every year, unfortunately we get a new version of the same news stories. Before New Year’s Eve, there’s the cautionary tale: for example an interview with a man who partially lost his vision after a firework blew up in his face. And every New Year sets off with the tragic tale about a man injured by a firework. This year, a man lost three fingers and a part of the fourth.

According to statistics, the largest demographic of injuries in a firework related accident is grown men. 

Oh and every year, veterinarians recommend that pet owners play soothing music, draw the curtains and even give them relaxants. Every cat and dog, horse and hamster is absolutely terrified. Understandably.

And if only it were limited to New Year’s Eve. No, the Icelandic firework season begins in mid-December and ends only in mid-January. The incident I described at the beginning of this column took place on January 7.

I am quite sure that shooting fireworks from one’s backyard is one of those things which we will look back on a few decades from now and cringe. Did people seriously do that?!. Our children’s children will ask in bewilderment. No way!

Are we really going to continue on with this Russian roulette and wait until somebody gets seriously hurt?

Or are we going to do the responsible thing and leave handling of explosions to professionals?

I sincerely hope so.

Ásta Andrésdóttir - asta@icelandreview.com

Views expressed here are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Iceland Review.