Celebrating America's Independence
In 1776, John Adams wrote home to his wife Abigail, that the day would be celebrated by future generations with "Pomp and Parade...Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other." He had just signed the Declaration of Independence, and he was exactly right!
The 4th of July, also known as Independence Day, had a slow start as the Revolutionary War was in full swing. However, throughout the summer of 1776 colonists in the U.S. celebrated the birth of independence with mock funerals for King George III, signifying the break from Great Britain.
In 1778, George Washington set the stage for a holiday filled with libations by giving a double ration of rum to all of his soldiers.
Patriotism Spreads after War of 1812
Soon after the Revolutionary War was over, America found itself opposite Great Britain again during the War of 1812. It was after this war that intentionally patriotic celebrations began to spread throughout the colonies.
While many communities and cities celebrated with great parades, firecrackers, picnics and patriotic speeches, bonfires were particularly popular in the beginning. Cities would compete against one another to see who could build the biggest bonfire, fueled by barrels and crates, in order to ring in the holiday on the eve of July 4th.
A Federal Holiday & Growing Traditions
In 1870, Independence Day was declared a federal holiday by the U.S. Congress. However, it wasn't until 1938 that it earned the designation of a paid federal holiday.
The oldest continuous celebration in the United States is the Bristol 4th of July in Bristol, Rhode Island. Started in 1785, the festival features a parade, pageant, concert series, drum and bugle corps competition, sporting events, a carnival, eats and treats, a car show and fireworks. The small town of 6,000 people swells to hold nearly 40,000 visitors during this special event. The festival has remained essentially the same over two centuries in existence.
Anyone who lives near a military base may also know about an Independence Day custom called the "Salute to the Union." A salute of one gun for each state in the U.S. is signified by shots fired at noon by any capable military base.
Celebrating Today - Family. Friends. Fireworks.
Throughout 240 years of celebration, the 4th of July has remained much the same. Communities still celebrate with parades, speeches, pageants, picnics and fireworks. Military displays and music are usually incorporated into events. Lots of apple pie, ice cream and watermelons are consumed. Barbecue grills are busy. Beverages are flowing. Fireworks, to their credit, have become more advanced.Overall, the essence of the holiday remains the same. People gather together in appreciation for the freedom they love, the country they are loyal to and their pride in this great nation.