After a long, cold winter, we’ve celebrated the beginning of summer with a neighbourhood bonfire at our place on the Victoria Day long weekend in May. The entire neighbourhood, family, and friends were invited over after supper to sit around the campfire and catch-up on the news while the kids played. There were games like tag, volleyball, frisbee, badminton or bocce. Kids and adults alike could bring their fishing rods and cast away trying to catch little sunfish or larger pike from the river. We’d start the bonfire early, before dark, to get the most out of the party. Everyone would bring snacks to share and beverages for themselves as well as some fireworks to add to the communal collection for after dark.
Neighbourhood dogs were also welcome as they liked to play with each other too. Everyone took their pet home before the fireworks began though because they were usually terrified of the loud bangs.
As dark closed in on us just after 9:00 p.m., everyone gathered closer to the campfire to wait until it was pitch black in the sky. Then the fireworks would begin!
The older, teenage children were allowed to be in charge of the fireworks display. It was an honour to finally be old enough to set them off instead of just watching them. We usually had 3 or 4 five gallon buckets filled with sand to put each piece of fireworks in which were set up along the waterfront. The teenage ‘pyrotechnicians’ had already organized the fireworks during the daylight and decided in which order they would be set off and who would do it. It was quite the organizational feat! While waiting for dark, the younger children got to use Sparklers, with parental supervision – mostly there were no incidents of being burned with their own or someone else’s sparkler. The burned wires were put into the bonfire pit rather than left on the grass to damage my lawn tractor or bare feet.
Once the campfire died down to low embers after dark, it was time! The dogs were all taken home (and locked inside) and the adults and younger children sat about 25+ feet away waiting in excited anticipation for the fireworks display to begin! Years ago, we had driven to community fireworks displays in small towns and even the capital of Canada, Ottawa on Canada Day , so the children could see these amazing colours in the dark sky. It was always crowded, buggy, and a traffic nightmare to get home. Our homegrown neighbourhood fireworks and bonfire was just right.
Over the years, all the older children who were in charge of the fireworks display did an excellent job! They set them off over the river with a multitude of different types of fireworks including rockets, roman candles, cone fountains, strobes, flares, pinwheels, etc. We always concluded with my personal favourite, The Burning Schoolhouse(s) – sometimes we had several.
After fireworks, everyone gathered around the bonfire to chat, roast marshmallows, play guitar, and sing songs. One former neighbour had a talent of writing songs and sang them at our neighbourhood parties, to everyone’s delight – some of the titles were: The Firetruck Song (that’s another story of one of our bonfire events); The Trespassing Song; and Mike always did an animated recitation of “The Cremation of Sam McGee” to everyone’s delight in front of the glowing campfire! Other favourite campfire songs over the years include “Dead Skunk in the Middle of the Road” and “They Built the Ship Titanic” plus I always loved it when someone played guitar and sang Gordon Lightfoot songs like “Black Day in July” or “Canadian Railroad Trilogy” or “Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald”. And of course, my granddaughter Kalia’s favourite “Moonshadow” (by Cat Stevens in the 1970’s). It’s a good thing we love music because now my children know how to play guitar and sing my favourite tunes! The little children and babies would fall asleep in their parent’s arms and be carried home in the dark after the embers in the campfire burned down.
These days, we usually have a family bonfire at my son Darin’s place. It’s smaller and cozier but still has all the familiar songs, Smores, and roasted marshmallows! And besides, I have trouble staying awake until after dark for fireworks now anyway!
Happy Victoria Day Canada and Happy Memorial Day U.S.A!