Independence Day, the only holiday that celebrates the United States, is a national holiday marked by patriotic displays. Similar to other summer-themed events, Fourth of July celebrations often take place outdoors. Independence Day is a federal holiday, so all non-essential federal institutions (like the postal service and federal courts) are closed on that day. Many politicians make it a point on this day to appear at a public event to praise the nation’s heritage, society and people. Speeches and editorials may invoke American Revolutionary themes such as the founding fathers (including John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, and George Washington), the Constitution, the Liberty Bell, and democratic principles such as liberty, freedom, equality under the law, inalienable rights, and representative government.
Families often mark the Fourth of July with a picnic or barbecue, and take advantage of the long weekend or off-day to gather with relatives. Decorations (e.g., streamers, balloons, and clothing) generally are colored red, white, and blue due to the colors of the American Flag. Because Independence Day is in the summer, bathing suits have once in a while been given the American flag design. Parades are often held in the morning, baseball games played (July 4th being nearly halfway into the baseball season), and fireworks displays in public parks in the evening. Other traditions include face painting for children and tossing of a football or frisbee.
Independence Day fireworks are often accompanied by a pops orchestra playing patriotic songs such as “The Star-Spangled Banner”, “God Bless America”, “America the Beautiful”, “My Country, Tis of Thee”, “This Land Is Your Land”, “Stars and Stripes Forever”, and, regionally, “Yankee Doodle” in northeastern states and “Dixie” in southern states. Some of the lyrics recall images of the Revolutionary War or the War of 1812. While the “1812 Overture” refers to Russia’s defeat of Napoleon, it has been traditionally used by the Boston Pops and broadcast nationwide on PBS, so many Americans also associate this musical work with the July 4th fireworks.
“The Star-Spangled Banner”, the USA’s national anthem, commemorates the United States flag that was visible by the light of the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air. This view of the flag through a night of bomb bursts inspired the captive Francis Scott Key during the War of 1812, and provided hope for the United States as it defended Fort McHenry.
Music for the Fourth has been largely traditional, as noted above, evoking themes of patriotism. Some contemporary compositions are titled so as to lead the listener to think the song’s theme is patriotic, when it is not. “Happy Birthday America” by “Randy T.” of Baton Rouge, Louisiana is a song that does seem to directly address the Fourth of July holiday as a celebration of a progressive nature.
Firework shows are held in many states, and many fireworks are sold for personal use or as an alternative to a public show. Safety concerns have led some states to ban fireworks or limit the sizes and types allowed. Illicit traffic transfers many firecrackers from less restrictive states, showing that the American people have nevertheless found a way to celebrate “with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations.”
Most fireworks shows in the United States end in an intense finale, with a volley of fireworks rapidly launched almost simultaneously. Major displays are held in New York and Boston harbors and on the National Mall in Washington, DC. Detroit, Michigan and Windsor, Ontario also host one of the largest fireworks displays in the world over the Detroit River each year to celebrate both American Independence Day and Canada Day during the Windsor-Detroit International Freedom Festival.
Picnics and barbecues
Outdoor barbecues and picnics are easy to prepare for the large number of people that often gather on the Fourth of July. Barbecues generally involve hamburgers and hot dogs.
The picnics are generally held in parks while waiting for fireworks, or at the beach. They do not involve cooking meats, but sandwiches such as peanut butter and jelly and tuna salad. Picnics were traditionally carried in a picnic basket, although coolers are more common now.
Beverages for these outdoor events generally include 2-liters of soda, chilled with ice and served in cups. Alcoholic beverages include beer or kegs – participants may be asked to bring their own (“BYOB”). If beverages are drunk directly from the can, a beer holder may also be used. Traditional side dishes for a picnic or barbecue include potato salad, potato chips, vegetable tray, jello salad, and perhaps baked beans or corn on the cob.
Guests at barbecues and picnics may sit at a picnic table or some other outdoor furniture. Picnics in a park (especially where fireworks are held) often feature a blanket or towel set on the ground for participants to sit on.