TIME Holidays

The Top 5 Myths About the Fourth of July

The First Flag
Hulton Archive / Getty Images An illustration of American seamstress Betsy Ross showing the first design of the American flag to George Washington in Philadelphia

Even the date itself is surrounded by myths

History News Network

This post is in partnership with the History News Network, the website that puts the news into historical perspective. A version of the article below was originally published at HNN.

#1 Independence Was Declared on the Fourth of July.

America’s independence was actually declared by the Continental Congress on July 2, 1776. The night of the second the Pennsylvania Evening Post published the statement:”This day the Continental Congress declared the United Colonies Free and Independent States.”

So what happened on the Glorious Fourth? The document justifying the act of Congress-you know it as Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence-was adopted on the fourth, as is indicated on the document itself, which is, one supposes, the cause for all the confusion. As one scholar has observed, what has happened is that the document announcing the event has overshadowed the event itself.

When did Americans first celebrate independence? Congress waited until July 8, when Philadelphia threw a big party, including a parade and the firing of guns. The army under George Washington, then camped near New York City, heard the new July 9 and celebrated then. Georgia got the word August 10. And when did the British in London finally get wind of the declaration? August 30.

John Adams, writing a letter home to his beloved wife Abigail the day after independence was declared (i.e. July 3), predicted that from then on”the Second of July, 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America. I am apt to believe it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival.” A scholar coming across this document in the nineteenth century quietly” corrected” the document, Adams predicting the festival would take place not on the second but the fourth.

#2 The Declaration of Independence was signed July 4.

Hanging in the grand Rotunda of the Capitol of the United States is a vast canvas painting by John Trumbull depicting the signing of the Declaration. Both Thomas Jefferson and John Adams wrote, years afterward, that the signing ceremony took place on July 4. When someone challenged Jefferson’s memory in the early 1800’s Jefferson insisted he was right. The truth? As David McCullough remarks in his new biography of Adams,”No such scene, with all the delegates present, ever occurred at Philadelphia.”

So when was it signed? Most delegates signed the document on August 2, when a clean copy was finally produced by Timothy Matlack, assistant to the secretary of Congress. Several did not sign until later. And their names were not released to the public until later still, January 1777. The event was so uninspiring that nobody apparently bothered to write home about it. Years later Jefferson claimed to remember the event clearly, regaling visitors with tales of the flies circling overhead. But as he was wrong about the date, so perhaps he was wrong even about the flies.

The truth about the signing was not finally established until 1884 when historian Mellon Chamberlain, researching the manuscript minutes of the journal of Congress, came upon the entry for August 2 noting a signing ceremony.

As for Benjamin Franklin’s statement, which has inspired patriots for generations,”We must all hang together, or most assuredly we shall hang separately” … well, there’s no proof he ever made it.

#3 The Liberty Bell Rang in American Independence.

Well of course you know now that this event did not happen on the fourth. But did it happen at all? It’s a famous scene. A young boy with blond hair and blue eyes was supposed to have been posted in the street next to Independence Hall to give a signal to an old man in the bell tower when independence was declared. It never happened. The story was made up out of whole cloth in the middle of the nineteenth century by writer George Lippard in a book intended for children. The book was aptly titled, Legends of the American Revolution. There was no pretense that the story was genuine.

If the Liberty Bell rang at all in celebration of independence nobody took note at the time. The bell was not even named in honor of American independence. It received the moniker in the early nineteenth century when abolitionists used it as a symbol of the antislavery movement.

A visit to the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, encased in a multi-million dollar shrine leaves the impression that the bell indeed played a role in American independence. The guides are more forthcoming, though when we last visited they did not expressly repudiate the old tradition unless directly asked a question about it. Our guide sounded a bit defensive, telling our little group it didn’t really matter if the bell rang in American independence or not. Millions have come to visit, she noted, allowing the bell to symbolize liberty for many different causes. In other words, it is our presence at the bell that gives the shrine its meaning. It is important because we think it’s important. It’s the National Park Service’s version of existentialism.

As for the famous crack … it was a badly designed bell and it cracked. End of story.

#4 Betsy Ross Sewed the First Flag.

A few blocks away from the Liberty Bell is the Betsy Ross House. There is no proof Betsy lived here, as the Joint State Government Commission of Pennsylvania concluded in a study in 1949. Oh well. Every year the throngs still come to gawk. As you make your way to the second floor through a dark stairwell the feeling of verisimilitude is overwhelming. History is everywhere. And then you come upon the famous scene. Behind a wall of Plexiglas, as if to protect the sacred from contamination, a Betsy Ross manikin sits in a chair carefully sewing the first flag. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, this is where Betsy sewed that first famous symbol of our freedom, the bars and stripes, Old Glory itself.

Alas, the story is no more authentic than the house itself. It was made up in the nineteenth century by Betsy’s descendants.

The guide for our group never let on that the story was bogus, however. Indeed, she provided so many details that we became convinced she really believed it. She told us how General George Washington himself asked Betsy to stitch the first flag. He wanted six point stars; Betsy told him that five point stars were easier to cut and stitch. The general relented.

After the tour was over we approached the guide for an interview. She promptly removed her Betsy Ross hat, turned to us and admitted the story is all just a lot of phooey. Oh, but it is a good story, she insisted, and one worth telling.

Poor Betsy. In her day she was just a simple unheralded seamstress. Now the celebrators won’t leave her alone. A few years ago they even dug up her bones where they had lain in a colonial graveyard for 150 years, so she could be buried again beneath a huge sarcophagus located on the grounds of the house she was never fortunate enough to have lived in.

So who sewed the first flag? No one knows. But we do know who designed it. It was Frances Hopkinson. Records show that in May 1780 he sent a bill to the Board of Admiralty for designing the”flag of the United States.” A small group of descendants works hard to keep his name alive. Just down the street from Betsy’s house one of these descendants, the caretaker for the local cemetery where Benjamin Franklin is buried, entertains school children with stories about Hopkinson, a signer of the Declaration, who is also credited with designing the seal of the United States. We asked him what he made of the fantasies spun at the Betsy Ross house. He confided he did not want to make any disparaging remarks as he was a paid employee of the city of Philadelphia, which now owns the house.

The city seems to be of the opinion that the truth doesn’t matter. Down the street from the cemetery is a small plaque posted on a brick building giving Hopkinson the credit he rightly deserves.

As long as the tourists come.

#5 John Adams and Thomas Jefferson Died on the Fourth of July.

Ok, this is true. On July 4, 1826, Adams and Jefferson both died, exactly fifty years after the adoption of Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence, which the country took as a sign of American divinity. But there is no proof that Adams, dying, uttered,”Jefferson survives,” which was said to be especially poignant, as Jefferson had died just hours before. Mark that up as just another hoary story we wished so hard were true we convinced ourselves it is.

Rick Shenkman is the editor of the History News Network and the author of the forthcoming book, Political Animals: How Our Stone-Age Brain Gets in the Way of Smart Politics (Basic Books, 2015).

MONEY Food & Drink

America Is Going to Spend Big to Celebrate Independence

From $725 million in fireworks to $1 billion in beer, Americans will shell out a lot of money this Independence Day.

When it comes to Independence Day, Americans aren’t shy about spending money. We’ll spend $725 million on fireworks, up from $695 million last year, according to the American Pyrotechnics Association. Forty-two million people will travel for the holiday, thanks to low gas prices, says AAA. We’ll spend $71.23 per person on cookouts, which is $6.6 billion total, for 700 million pounds of chicken, 190 million pounds of beef and 150 million hot dogs. And to top it off, we’ll spend $1 billion on beer.

TIME Mental Health/Psychology

How Fireworks Can Trigger PTSD

Fireworks will be going off with a bang all weekend, but for some, they cause more anxiety than celebration

You may see the signs popping up around your neighborhood this July 4—red, white and blue notices that indicate the home of a vet with the request to “Please be courteous with fireworks.”

The signs are the work of a Facebook-launched nonprofit, Military With PTSD, begun by Shawn Gourley, whose husband, Justin, served in the Navy for four years and returned with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Sudden and loud noises can trigger episodes of PTSD, bringing veterans back to traumatic experiences they have lived through during their service. According to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, up to 20% of military personnel who served in Iraq or Afghanistan experience PTSD each year.

The signs are posted on the lawns of veterans’ homes to alert people to be more considerate when setting off fireworks in the area. According to Gourley, who spoke to CNN, the group has mailed 2,500 signs, some of which were paid for by donations and others by the vets themselves, while 3,000 people remain on a waiting list.

The signs are not meant to quash any Fourth of July celebrations, but to raise awareness that the explosive sounds, flashes of light and smell of powder may trigger unwelcome memories for some. “If you are a veteran, on the one hand July 4th should be one of the most patriotic holidays that you feel a part of,” says Dr. John Markowitz, professor of psychiatry at Columbia University. “On the other hand, the rockets’ red glare and the bombs bursting in air are likely to evoke traumatic memories, and you might want to hide. It’s a tricky one.”

Having advanced knowledge of a fireworks display can help some people with PTSD to better prepare and cope with any symptoms they may experience. “A big component of the startle response and PTSD is the unexpected,” says Rachel Tester, program director of the Law Enforcement, Active Duty, Emergency Responder (LEADER) Program at Harvard Medical School’s McLean Hospital. “When people are able to anticipate, they are able to put into place mechanisms they have to cope ahead of time.”

That might include things such as relaxation techniques or being able to see the fireworks show and therefore know that they’re coming, as well as having headphones, music or other distractions at the ready.

Such strategies may not work for every PTSD patient, but being more aware that the explosive celebrations of the holiday might affect those with PTSD is an important step toward ensuring that everyone can enjoy the holiday without fear, anxiety or pain.

TIME toxins

How Fireworks Pollution Could Be Hurting Your Health

Levels of tiny pollutants are 42% higher on the holiday than on a typical day, one study says

Fireworks on the Fourth of July dramatically increase air pollution, boosting exposure to potentially dangerous pollutants for millions of onlookers, according to a recent study in the journal Atmospheric Environment.

“When people think of air pollution, they think of other kinds of things—smoke stacks, automobile exhaust pipes, construction sites,” says study author Dian J. Seidel, senior scientist for climate measurements at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). “I don’t think most people think of fireworks.”

The level of particulate matter, or small pollutants like dust, dirt and soot present in the air, increased by 42% on average across the U.S. on the Fourth of July, according to the study. Air conditions are at their worst between 9 and to 10 p.m. on the day of the holiday. The researchers, who looked at data from 315 sites across the country, found that ten of the sites met a threshold deemed unsafe by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) when sustained for a prolonged period of time.

Extended exposure to particulate matter can lead to coughing, wheezing and even lead to an early death for people with pre-existing conditions like heart or lung disease, according to the EPA.

Not all fireworks are created equal, and a number of factors—including weather patterns, location of the fireworks and the size and number of shows—may determine levels of firework pollution, according to Seidel. One site in Ogden, UT, saw nearly a five-fold increase in particulate matter on the Fourth compared to an average day.

The researchers also found that many of the most-polluted sites coincide with the country’s most populous metropolitan areas. Los Angeles, Chicago and Seattle, for example, all experienced levels of particulate matter that exceeded the EPA’s safety threshold.

Avoiding firework pollution can be difficult, if not impossible, health experts say. People in the immediate vicinity of fireworks will experience the most pollution. From there, the particles will disperse throughout the area, hardly leaving any place untouched. People sitting downwind from the fireworks will receive the brunt of pollution, says Joel Schwartz, a professor of environmental epidemiology at Harvard University. Indeed, the EPA advises children and the elderly, along with people with heart disease, asthma and other lung diseases, to consider watching upwind from fireworks. But given how long particles linger, it may be difficult to avoid firework pollution altogether if you live in the vicinity of a fireworks show.

“Particles tend to stay suspended in the air for days,” says Schwartz. “They’re going to drift whichever way the winds goes, so it’s not just going to be the people sitting in the park watching the fireworks.”

But while the increase in pollution due to fireworks may sound frightening, most public health experts say those levels would need to be sustained for much longer before widespread health problems emerge. The EPA’s rules “discount” particulate matter from fireworks when evaluating dangerous pollution levels, according to a statement from an agency spokesperson. “It’s one day,” says Schwartz. “Your risk went up a little bit, but I don’t think it’s a major public health issue.”

In fact, even Seidel says she’s planning to watch the fireworks this year. “Yes, I will be watching,” she told TIME, “from a safe distance and upwind.”

Read next: Somebody Flew a Drone Into a Fireworks Display and This Is What Happened

TIME Diet/Nutrition

Here’s What Happens To Your Steak When You Grill It

Nothing says the Fourth of July like juicy seared food, so here’s a quick lesson on the science behind grilling

It’s time to throw nearly everything you can think of—meat, chicken, fish, vegetables and even fruit—on the grill and give it a good sear. But what makes food cooked over a fire taste so good? Here’s the simple (we promise, it’s not that complicated) science behind what makes red meat red, when to take your food off the flame, and whether gas or charcoal is really better for that getting that smoky flavor, thanks to the experts at the American Chemical Society.


Learn How to Photograph Fireworks From America’s Best Pyrotechnic Experts

Long exposures and wide angles are key

Photographer, and certified pyrotechnician, Lauren Grucci’s entire life revolves around fireworks. She is part of the sixth generation of “America’s First Family of Fireworks” who also happens to hold the Guinness World Record for the Largest Fireworks Display ever recorded.

Fireworks by Grucci has been family-owned for 165 years and boasts an impressive portfolio of fireworks displays, including the Dubai 2013/2014 New Years Eve world record setter, the 200th anniversary of the National Anthem Star Spangled Banner Spectacular, the Olympic Games in Beijing and Salt Lake City, and seven consecutive U.S. presidential inaugurations.

Grucci, who began photographing fireworks at the age of 17, says she’s always wanted to add a personal touch to fireworks, and “something clicked” when she was able to bring her passion for photography to the family business. TIME LightBox spoke with Grucci, who shared her tips for photographing fireworks this Fourth of July.

Marisa Schwartz Taylor: What is the most interesting fireworks show you have ever photographed?

Lauren Grucci: Back in 2008, I found myself on an undeveloped and completely empty portion of the Palm Island in Dubai capturing one of the largest displays we had done, at that time, for the opening of the Atlantis Hotel. I was alone and completely surrounded by fireworks – it was overwhelming and very emotional. Another time I was harnessed to a hops silo at the Guinness Brewery in Ireland to photograph fireworks for their 250th Anniversary where we created Arthur Guinness’ signature across the building in fireworks. It’s always a crazy situation – but never fails to be unforgettable.

Marisa Schwartz Taylor: What tips can you share for photographers shooting fireworks?

Lauren Grucci: A lot of it is timing. It helps if there is music because you can anticipate the firework choreography based on the song. The color of the firework plays a big part as well. For example, a firework that burns white is going to [necessitate] a different exposure than a firework that burns red. A lot of times, you have to compensate for the colors, and know when to change your settings.

Marisa Schwartz Taylor: What camera settings are ideal?

Lauren Grucci: Most of my images are shot with the lowest ISO and an 8-10 second exposure. Aperture depends on how many fireworks are in the sky at the time of exposure and what color they are. I use a Canon 5D Mark II and III on a tripod, always with a wide angle lens.

Marisa Schwartz Taylor: How do you know when to snap the photo?

Lauren Grucci: Being so closely involved with firework displays, I’ve learned to anticipate when a firework is going to break. When a firework is launched there is a tail that resembles an ember shooting into the sky. I usually wait 2-3 seconds after first seeing the ember before I release my shutter.

Marisa Schwartz Taylor: Where is the best place to position yourself during a fireworks show?

Lauren Grucci: It’s important to take into account the height of the fireworks, you never want to be too close – its always better to look for a wide angle. I also like to include some element of the audience or movement from objects that may frame the firework display. The photos are all pretty long exposures, so the blur of the crowd or the movement of water in a fountain can add a bit of life and context to the photo.

Marisa Schwartz Taylor: What’s the best way to improve images of fireworks?

Lauren Grucci: A remote shutter makes a huge difference in firework photography. The streak effect achieved by the long exposure is so fine that even the slightest camera shake will result in a wiggly looking firework. The less you physically handle the camera, the better.

Marisa Schwartz Taylor: Any tips for shooting fireworks if you only have an iPhone?

Lauren Grucci: I would recommend downloading an app that allows you to change the exposure on your phone. A lot of times the fireworks can be too bright and end up blowing out the whole image.

Marisa Schwartz Taylor: What is most exciting thing about photographing fireworks?

Lauren Grucci: The travel and the access. Sometimes I will find myself in locations where the public is not allowed, in some of the most beautiful countries in the world, and it always seems very surreal. It is also a challenge every time. There are a lot of elements that need to be taken into account – but when you get that perfect shot, you know you’ve learned something new.

Marisa Schwartz Taylor: Are there opportunities for firework photography enthusiasts to get work?

Lauren Grucci: We are always looking for photographers to help us document our work. For New Years Eve 2014, we worked with a team of photographers from Japan, Germany, and the US to capture a World Record setting display in Dubai as well as a display off the tallest building in the world – The Burj Khalifa. Finding new talent within fireworks photography and giving them the opportunity to join us is something we look forward to.

Marisa Schwartz Taylor: Can you explain the logistics of producing multiple, massive fireworks shows every year?

Lauren Grucci: We have a great team of people at the design office on Long Island who gear up for our busy seasons. During the Fourth of July and New Years Eve, we put in long hours and many weekends to keep up with the demand. There is also a massive team of pyro-technicians made up of hundreds of people from all over the world who travel to various locations and work extremely hard to make these shows happen. All in all, everyone appreciates the thrill that is felt when the dust settles. It is what keeps the gears turning year after to year to produce some of the worlds largest and best firework shows.

Finally, don’t get too caught up on settings and technical details. A good shot comes from practice and just a little bit of luck. Also – don’t forget to enjoy the fireworks! We love the ooo’s and ahh’s.

Lauren Grucci is a photographer based in Long Island, N.Y.

Marisa Schwartz Taylor is an Associate Photo Editor at TIME.com. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter.

MONEY Travel

The Busiest Airports This July 4th Weekend

ALAN SCHEIN—Getty Images

Arrive extra early if you're flying out of one of these hubs.

What’s more American than apple pie? Airport security lines as far as the eye can see.

The Fourth of July is simultaneously one of the most popular and one of the most expensive weekends to travel. Airfare is only about 4 percent cheaper this year, but travelers will still be out in full force. So Hopper decided to analyze what this year’s Fourth of July travel patterns will look like by calculating which airports will have the biggest influx of travelers arriving and departing.

Airport traffic, indicated by the size of each colored dot, is determined by the total number of passengers flying from and to that airport. Routes are shaded by the number of passengers flying that route. So airports that start redder and finish bluer have relatively more people departing than arriving; airports that start bluer and finish red have more people arriving than departing.

New York City, Chicago, and Washington D.C. far outweigh the competition when it comes to passenger traffic. In numbers, here are the busiest destinations for the Fourth of July, based on the number of airfare searches Hopper saw:

Are you headed to or from any of these airports? May want to get there early and prepare yourself for (very) packed airplanes.

This article originally appeared on Hopper.com. Hopper is a travel app that tracks and predicts airfare prices.

TIME advice

How to Make Your Own Sparklers

A fun DIY project for your family

There are many motivations to DIY. Sometimes, as with stock made from scraps, it’s an economical choice. Sometimes, like with yogurt, we might prefer the end product to something store-bought. Sometimes, like with soapmaking and sewing projects, making something by hand lets us exercise our creative impulses and customize our belongings. And sometimes, DIYing isn’t cheaper or easier or faster or higher-quality, but we still try it—just to see if we can.

That’s why, for this Independence Day, I made my own sparklers. Yes, there are some scary-sounding chemicals involved; yes, it’s more expensive than buying a pack at your neighborhood fireworks stand (unless you live in NYC, where even those are hard to come by). But it turned out to be fun and empowering to make something that I’d never imagined I could do myself, and I learned a few things about chemistry along the way.

Note: Before you get started, do check your state and local regulations to be sure that sparklers are legal to use where you live! All good? Let’s do this.

Rocky Luten/Food52

What You’ll Need to Make 25 Sparklers:

25 12-inch bamboo skewers
Corrugated cardboard box (such as the one your ingredients were shipped in)

200 grams strontium nitrate* (an oxidizer, necessary for the fuel to combust)
120 grams steel powder* (a metallic fuel that contains iron, which, in this case, makes the sparks)
32 grams aluminum*, bright flake, -325 mesh (another metallic fuel responsible for making the sparks)
2 grams airfloat charcoal* (additional fuel for modifying the burning speed of the sparkler)
6 grams boric acid* (suppresses a possible reaction between the aluminum powder and water)
40 grams dextrin* (a combustible binder used to hold everything else together)
25 mL denatured alcohol, a.k.a. ethanol (available at hardware stores as a fuel)

Wire cutters
Glass liquid measuring cup
Mesh sieve
2 medium glass bowls (the ones in your kitchen will work and can be safely washed clean afterwards)
Small glass bowl or additional measuring cup
Long spoon or spatula
Tall, narrow, preferably disposable container to hold your chemical mix, such as a tall water bottle, a canister of oats, or a Pringles can
Scale that can measure in grams
Rubber gloves
Safety goggles

*These chemicals are usually only sold by the pound, so the most cost-effective way to DIY sparklers is to double, triple, or even quadruple this recipe. Consider ordering a kit like this one containing most of the chemicals from a fireworks supplier, which provides enough to make two batches of this recipe with large leftover amounts of a few of them. By supplementing with extra orders of strontium nitrate, steel, and aluminum, you’ll have plenty of supplies to make another few batches.

How to DIY Sparklers:

1. Make a sparkler drying rack and trim the skewers. Use a skewer to poke 25 holes all the way through the bottom of a corrugated cardboard box, spacing them at least an inch apart, and trim the pointed ends off the skewers using wire cutters.

Rocky Luten/Food52
Rocky Luten/Food52

Set up the box in a location where it will be undisturbed for a few days, spreading out a layer of craft or newspaper underneath to catch any drips. Position it on its side so that the sparklers will stick out horizontally when you put them in the holes to dry (this will prevent them from dripping down onto their own handles), and secure it with a counterweight inside so that the weight of the sparklers won’t cause it to tip forward.

Note: Protect yourself during the next steps by putting on rubber gloves. Some of the powders you’ll use are very fine and can float up into the air, so you may want to wear safety goggles as well to protect your eyes from stray particles.

2. Prepare your wet ingredients. For the liquid medium holding all the powdered chemicals together, measure 25 mL of ethanol and 75 mL of water into a measuring cup and set aside to use in the next step. (If you’re planning to make a second batch, go ahead and double this batch while you’re at it.)

3. Mix the dry ingredients. One by one, use the scale and small bowl to weigh out the strontium nitrate, steel powder, aluminum, charcoal, and boric acid, and add them to the medium bowl. If any of the chemical powders are clumpy (stronium nitrate, especially), remove clumps using your gloved hand to press them through a sieve as you transfer to the medium bowl.

Rocky Luten/Food52

Stir everything together, then pour the mixture through the sieve into the second bowl. This step ensures a thorough mixing and lets you remove any missed clumps or large particles. I found it best to push the mixture gently through the sieve with my gloved hand rather than shaking the sieve, to prevent fine particles from flying into the air.

Rocky Luten/Food52
Rocky Luten/Food52

4. Make a dextrin slurry. That’s right—weigh out the dextrin into the small bowl and add about 25 mL of the ethanol/water solution you made in the last step and stir thoroughly to form a mustard-colored paste. Break up any large clumps in the paste using your spoon or spatula.

Rocky Luten/Food52
Rocky Luten/Food52

Stir this paste into the bowl of dry chemicals, then dribble in approximately 65 mL more of the ethanol/water solution. The exact amount may vary (and it’s okay if it does), so just add a small of ethanol solution a time until the mixture reaches a thick, smooth, molasses-like texture. Stir to combine, squishing out as many lumps as you can with your spoon or spatula, and watch as your powdered chemicals transform into a shimmery silver solution that makes all this weighing and mixing worth it.

Rocky Luten/Food52
Rocky Luten/Food52
Rocky Luten/Food52

5. Dip. Pour the mixture into a tall, narrow, preferably disposable container like a Pringles can for the next step.

Dip and roll the bottom 7 to 8 inches of each skewer in the sparkler mixture, leaving the other 4 to 5 inches bare for a handle, tilting the container of mixture to make it easier. Let as much mixture as possible drip off the skewer back into the container by holding the skewer upside down for a few moments and shaking it gently inside the container—the more thorough you are with this step, the smoother your sparklers will be.

6. Dry. Insert each sparkler into a hole in the drying rack, cover the container of mixture to save it, and let the sparklers dry out for 24 hours.

Rocky Luten/Food52
Rocky Luten/Food52

7. Repeat twice. To finish the sparklers, you’ll need to come back for two more dips (for a total of 3), allowing 24 hours of drying time between each. You’ll likely find that the mixture in the container has thickened a bit overnight, so thin it with a few mL of the ethanol solution if necessary and stir well. Follow the same dipping/drying procedure as before. You’re still aiming for as smooth a coating as possible, but some lumps and bumps are inevitable and won’t be a problem for the finished sparkler.

After a total of three dips and a final dry time of 48 hours, the sparklers are ready to use.

Clean your bowls, sieve, measuring cup(s), and stirrer with soap and water immediately after using them. These items should be easy to clean as long as you don’t allow any sparkler mixture to dry on them—but toss them in the dishwasher after if you want to be extra safe. Be sure to wipe out any metal remains from the bottom of the sink, where they can rust if left in standing water. If any of the solution gets on your skin, don’t fret but do clean it off immediately!

When you’re done dipping, carefully discard the dipping container since it’s been in contact with the chemicals for some time (and if the spatula you used is at all porous, discard that, too). To be safe when discarding your container, newspaper, and anything else with dried sparkler material on it, soak these items in water until they are thoroughly saturated and seal them in plastic bags before throwing them away. Use this same treatment if you need to dispose of any unburnt sparklers. In addition, check your local regulations for any rules applying to disposing of this type of waste.

Rocky Luten/Food52

Using the sparklers
These sparklers can be tricky to light, so it’s best to use a lighter with a long handle (to keep your hand safe) or a candle, rather than a short lighter or match. It’s also easy to light the sparklers off one another after the first one is lit. Unless your dipping technique is perfect, these will also burn a bit less evenly than store-bought sparklers—but that’s part of the charm! If they’re difficult to keep lit, try holding them pointing downward (with the handle above the burning part) for a moment.

Rocky Luten/Food52

Unlike commercial sparklers with wire cores, the bamboo cores of these sparklers will partially burn away as the sparkler sparkles. Because the sparkler material burns faster than the wood, they won’t completely disintegrate but they could drop hot ash, so wear shoes and use extra caution.

As with any fireworks, follow basic safety precautions: Only use them outdoors and have water or a fire extinguisher on hand. Once you’ve burned them, douse the sticks in water before discarding. If you’re storing unused sparklers for later, keep them in a humid place away from heat and flame, and check for rust before using them if they’ve been stored for a while.

Enjoy your homemade sparklers during your summer celebrations (they’re also excellent as gifts and favors). Not only are you making your chemistry teacher proud (and your parents a little scared)—you’re also celebrating your own sense of adventure! You’ve got this.

This article originally appeared on Food52

More from Food52:

TIME Science

Explore the Science Behind Fireworks — and the Galaxy

How do fireworks work? The same way the universe does

To you and me, watching fireworks is an age-old pastime best spent with people you love. But to astronomers, seeing those beautiful colors light up the night sky means something entirely different.

The chemistry that enables people to see the array of colors during a fireworks show, is the same chemistry that allows astronomers to see stars and planets hundreds of light years away.

Watch materials scientist Ainissa Ramirez explain how this is possible.


MONEY Travel

5 Vacation Spots That Will Be Cheaper This Fourth of July

Michael DeYoung / Design Pics—Getty Images/First Light Fireworks over Westchester Lagoon, near downtown Anchorage, around midnight on July 4th.

Book before Sunday, June 14, when flight prices start spiking.

Want to go somewhere for the Fourth of July, but need to save a bit of money while doing it? We hear you. At Hopper, we searched for the U.S. cities where airfare prices are cheaper than usual so we can nab you a great deal for your Independence Day vacation. Following are the 5 U.S. cities where airfare prices have actually dropped for 2015! For the best deals, book before Sunday, June 14th. when flight prices start spiking. Happy travels!


If you’ve ever been curious about the wild backcountry of Alaska, perhaps this is the year to visit. We found that average flights into Anchorage’s Ted Stevens International Airport cost just $584 — which is a good deal, considering that in 2014, airfare was $724 for the same weekend! While in Anchorage, be sure to tour the fjords of the Prince William Sound or explore the surrounding forests and mountains. Summer temperatures are generally pleasant and in the mid-60s.

New Orleans

Ray Laskowitz—Getty Images/Lonely Planet ImagesGolden hour in The French Quarter

New Orleans is a crazy party place year round, but it’s especially insane around Mardi Gras. Instead, avoid the crowds and hop on one of these cheaper-than-usual flights to New Orleans over the Fourth of July: Airfare prices are down to a low of $389 on average (normal cost: well over $500). It’ll be hot and humid, so we recommend you grab a foot-high frozen drink from Fat Tuesday and take it to the French Quarter jazz clubs to cool off.

West Palm Beach

West Palm Beach has so much more going for it than its perfect coastline (although the sugar-soft beaches don’t hurt!) A family-friendly wildlife sanctuary and zoo, the cool Norton Museum of Art, a popping performing-arts scene, and plenty of designer shopping all draw tourists to this Florida city. Surprisingly, holiday flight prices to West Palm Beach have decreased, going for just $308 this year (they were well over $400 in 2014!).


Dallas is a treat for culture hunters, with an array of great galleries, the sprawling arboretum and botanical gardens, and of course the fascinating Sixth Floor Museum/Texas School Book Depository, which explores the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Your historical visit begins with these inexpensive flights to Dallas, costing an average $374 — that’s $114 cheaper than last year, and you can often find airfare for much lower.


Gary Conner—Getty ImagesAtlanta, Centennial Olympic Park fountain

Finally on our list: Atlanta. “Hotlanta” is just that this time of year, but it’s well worth a visit, with airfare going for just $286 on average for the Fourth of July. In 2014, flights cost at least $86 more. So this is the summer to explore the Fox Theatre, the kid-approved Georgia Aquarium, and the College Football Hall of Fame (you can even pretend to be a university star player on a half-size field with a regulation goal post!).

Read next: This Is the Absolute Best Time to Book a Flight

This article originally appeared on Hopper.com. Hopper is a travel app that tracks and predicts airfare prices.

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