It was the Chinese who first discovered how to make pretty colours and a loud bang from gunpowder wrapped in paper. Now, fireworks are used to mark special occasions worldwide, and few of us are immune to the wonder of standing under a fluorescent shower. We have seen several of these special events in the past few weeks, and there are more to come.
For a few minutes on November 5, a corner of the Abu Dhabi night sky was lit up with a brilliant pyrotechnic display. This was Bonfire Night at The Club, marking the anniversary of the Gunpowder Plot – a failed attempt to blow up the Houses of Parliament in London – and it is widely celebrated in Britain. It is also called Guy Fawkes Night after the person who was captured and executed for the conspiracy. Whatever the motivations behind the plan may have been, this day is generally used to symbolise the triumph of good over evil. Indeed, as the brightly coloured fireworks rained down and disappeared above the spectators in Mina Zayed, the air was balmy and the mood was jolly. Grown-ups and children laughed and all seemed well with the world.
In the second week of November, the Indian community celebrated Diwali, the Festival of Lights. Homes were decorated with lamps and motifs were created on the floor with rice, flour and petals. Sweets, greetings and best wishes were shared with friends and family, along with charitable gifts to the needy. Traditionally, firework displays are used during Diwali to re-enact an episode from the Hindu epic, Ramayana, when Rama, the seventh incarnation of the god Vishnu and embodiment of virtue, returned to his kingdom after many years of exile. Once again, the main themes are the banishment of darkness for light, victory of knowledge over ignorance and prevalence of good over evil.
Tomorrow, December 2 is one of the most significant dates on our calendar. On this day 44 years ago, the emirates were united under the vision of Sheikh Zayed to give birth to the United Arab Emirates. People travel from far and wide to witness the breathtaking firework display along Abu Dhabi’s Corniche, and similar displays across the country.
To me, celebrating these occasions is a reminder that beyond the diversity of our world, there is also unity. It is very easy to collapse under the weight of a world made weary with conflict and hatred. Images of these are incessantly beamed into our homes and consciousness through an Orwellian environment of ubiquitous TV screens.
Let us challenge this animosity and instead focus our minds on the opposite and much more desirable premise that really, people’s basic hopes and aspirations are the same. Sometimes we just forget.
No matter how different we may initially appear to each other, if we take time to understand our rituals, we will realise that doing good, eliminating the negative and working together to achieve our goals is something that most of us strive towards. Whatever the custom or time of year, all communities have ceremonies to act out this desire. And where in the world can we reiterate this more firmly than in the UAE? It is truly a rich and vibrant melting pot where people from different cultures get together.
Rejoicing in the celebration of any occasion that comes with a positive message, I spared a moment for the hapless Guy Fawkes on Bonfire Night, lit a lamp during Diwali week and will be at the Corniche to mark National Day.
Perhaps you can, metaphorically speaking, join in and together we can flash smiles brilliant enough to match the fireworks and we can proclaim that this world is not perfect but it is beautiful. Let the illuminations turn into arrows of goodness that we set forth towards every corner of the universe. Let us build generations that love, not hate.
Mona Thomas is a travel and photography enthusiast who writes at www.monalisathomas.weebly.com