Editorial: Going up in smoke is all very well, but . . .

00:00, Jan 03 2014

People driving past Nelson restaurant The Boatshed as 2013 ran out of puff might have been surprised by an impromptu fireworks display set off from the footpath nearby. Various other bangs and flashes around the city on New Year's Eve showed that a number of people had stored their purchases from early November in order to signal the end of one year and their hopes for the new one.

Further afield, larger-scale New Year fireworks tributes were dominating the night sky. Auckland's Sky Tower, Christchurch's Hagley Park, a Kim Dotcom-backed display at Gisborne's Rhythm and Vines stood out among public events dotted around the country, with others at Paihia, Pauanui in Coromandel, Queenstown and Wanaka.

Overseas, Dubai shattered the world record for the largest ever pyrotechnic display on New Year's Eve with a show involving more than half a million fireworks - receiving Guinness confirmation yesterday - while more modest but still spectacular shows wowed crowds in many of the world's large cities.

Fireworks speak loudest to children and blokes who fail - or refuse - to grow up. Some, however, find them to be anything but fun: noisy, smelly, fearsome to pets and of real concern to firefighters. Various calls are made for them to be banned from general sale and available to only large, responsible, organisations planning public displays.

A poll in Auckland this week found 40 per cent of people wanted public sales banned. This means of course that most people are either happy with or ambivalent towards the current law, restricting sales to R18 and just four days at the start of November.

Tuesday night reminded us that restricting the sale of fireworks to November does not dictate when they are lit. Firefighters' and medics' concerns aside, the main problem from crackers is their random, sleep-disturbing use in the small hours at other, unpredictable, times of the year.

It all begs the question as to why we persist in keeping November 5 as fireworks night. A failed attempt to blow up the British Parliament in 1605 has no relevance to this nation. While New Zealand has numerous historical pegs our own celebration could be attached to, why not simply make the switch to December 31/January 1?

The school holidays are underway by then, making it easier to keep younger children up in order to watch backyard displays after dark. The days of pushing clothed and decorated straw-filled sacks around in wheelbarrows and then tossing the effigies on bonfires have long since died, and if we are going to persist in selling pyrotechnics then a better reason than the gunpowder plot is needed.

Of course, the heightened fire risk is a strong counter to a date in summer. The wisdom of burning hard-earned money is always questionable. But celebrating Guy Fawkes' foiled plan from more than 400 years ago makes no sense whatsoever.