You know what's better than watching fireworks? Lighting fireworks. The added sense of danger that, at any moment, something could explode an blind / maim you for life is exciting. But some of the more persnickety states is this country have passed laws making it illegal to possess or set off the pyrotechnics, under the guise of looking after our 10 fingers and toes. If you live in one of these states, here's a list of totally legal firework alternatives. Enjoy them until the government outlaws these, too!
Buy some in the store, tear some colored paper up, or just grab a handful of shredded documents at work. Throw 'em in the air and watch the dazzling display as they gently — and safely — descend to earth. Ramp up the excitement factor by using other materials, like rocks or a handful of sewing needles.
Fireworks in a Glass
Remember the urban legend about eating Pop Rocks and then drinking soda? Well, exploding stomachs would be a good firework replacement (just as dangerous and messy) but, alas, it is nothing but myth. The combination does release a lot of gas, though, so that's like internalized fireworks. Other "internalized fireworks" can be had by eating seafood of dubious freshness.
Similar to, but ultimately different from, the above suggestion: You can always jam Mentos into some Diet Coke, then "ooh" and "ahh" as the soda rockets into the sky. Then "argh" as the concoction falls back, spraying the mixture into your eyes.
One final way to use soda for 4th of July fun: Shake a can as much as you can, then pop the top. It's like a sticky, fizzing firework. Hold it at arms length and you can pretend it's a Roman Candle.
Some (most?) states even ban sparklers these days, as they burn so hot they can take out a whole house before anyone notices. But kids love running through the yard, waving them around in disregard for their safety. What are we to do? Answer: Give them flashlights. They can wave those things around and get at least 63% of the fun (based on our informal dealnews fun-rating system which exists only in Jeff Somogyi's mind). And if you give them flaslights with a high enough wattage, you can also bring back the danger element. (Except, instead of burns, it's a danger of blindness as a 3,000-watt bulb shining into the eyes of a child is bound to do some kind of harm.)
Remember your childhood when you realized the science fair was tomorrow and you forgot all about it, so you quickly grabbed the baking soda and the vinegar and mumbled something to your teacher about "volcano?" Well, this next suggestion is like that, but on the 4th of July. Stir together copious amounts of each of the substances, and it'll hiss and foam and fizz all over the place. In fact, it's fizzing and multiplying makes it a good ersatz "snake" (which are, outside of Bomb Bags, the worst "firework," really).
Speaking of Bomb Bags, we suppose you could mix the powder and vinegar together in a Ziplock and it'll fill up until it bursts, but why bother? Bomb Bags are the things you get when you can't get anything better.
Mother Nature's Fireworks
Have your kids go out at dusk with a glass jar and tell them to get as many lightning bugs as they can. Then, place those jars on the table, gather the family around, and have everyone stare at them for a couple minutes. It's the green approach and has no carbon footprint. (Of course, if you forget to open the jars later that night to free the captive insects, you and your family will be guilty of committing Lightning Bug genocide. Bad karma, man.)
In Your Eyes
The light, the heat of fireworks can be in your eyes ... or at least something similar. Simply make your hands into fists and rub your eyes for longer than for what four out of five optometrists will tell you is healthy. When you open your eyes, you'll see all kinds of colors and "explosions" of light.
The Hippie Approach
Dude, go out into the country and stare up at nature's fireworks. Like, I mean the stars, man!
Pretty lame replacements, right? But, hey, any firework port in a firework drought, right? (To mix metaphors and make my editor cringe.) Have a safe and happy Independence Day, huh? Actually, why not just go to your town's firework show? It's (statistically) the safest method of all! Or, you can just go to the ER and see the results of what happens when people light off illegal fireworks. (Spoilers: It's a bloodbath.)