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The History of Fourth of July Celebrations Food, Fireworks, and American Values
I really look forward to the Fourth of July. My family and I usually spend the day barbecuing before hitting the local fairgrounds to watch the fireworks after dusk. Growing up in a beach town meant I always had to work on Fourth of July. My first job was cooking up french fries on a boardwalk, so Fourth of July was basically our Black Friday. I never got to go out and spend time with my family or watch the fireworks until very recently, so these days, I fully embrace the opportunity to celebrate our independence. One of our founding fathers, John Adams, had ideas for what America’s independence celebrations would look like even before the Declaration of Independence had officially been ratified. In a letter to his wife, Abigail, written on July 3, 1776, he spoke of celebrations “with pomp and parade, with [shows], games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.” A year later, the first Fourth of July fireworks display was held in Philadelphia. However, it wasn’t until the war ended in 1783 that Independence Day was recognized as a holiday across the country. It replaced March 5, the date of the Boston Massacre, as the major patriotic holiday in Massachusetts. Around this time, fireworks also became commercially available all over our young nation. After the War of 1812 ended and American independence was solidified further, celebrations reached greater heights. John Philip Sousa’s 1897 march “The Stars and Stripes Forever” became a Fourth of July standard. “Stars and Stripes” would eventually be joined by “God Bless America,” “This Land is Your Land,” and “America the Beautiful” as Independence Day classics. Another integral part of Fourth of July celebrations is, without question, the food. As I said, Fourth of July was our Black Friday on the boardwalk, because who doesn’t love to celebrate with some great all-American fare? From hot dogs and hamburgers to baby back ribs, there’s no food more American than barbecue. Barbecue has been a Fourth of July tradition, especially in the South, for over a century. When the great American ornithologist John J. Audubon visited Kentucky in the early 19th century to
research the local birds, he was treated to an Independence Day barbecue. He never forgot that day and wrote of the event, “Although more than 20 years have elapsed since I joined a Kentucky barbecue, my spirit is refreshed every Fourth of July by the recollection of that day’s merriment.”
“This year, as we dig into a hot cheeseburger and watch the fireworks light up the night sky, let’s celebrate all the values that make the United States the greatest country on Earth.”
The Fourth of July, though, isn’t just about food and festivities — it’s also a day to remember the ideals our country was created to embody. Thomas Jefferson, the writer of the Declaration of Independence, certainly felt that the holiday was a time to reflect on these values. In the last letter he ever wrote, from his home at Monticello on June 24, 1826, he advocated that annual celebrations “forever refresh our recollections of these rights, and an undiminished devotion to them.” This year, as we dig into a hot cheeseburger and watch the fireworks light up the night sky, let’s celebrate all the values that make the United States the greatest country on Earth.
- David Brauns
Happy Fourth of July!
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