Independence Day info

Patricia takes a look at some of the facts and traditions behind the Fourth of July.

Patricia Diaz, Writer

Independence Day, most commonly known as the Fourth of July, is a proudly American holiday celebrated with barbecues, picnics, and fireworks. But though most know that July 4th commemorates the birth of our nation, the historical origins of this patriotic day are often confusing.

Date of the Day
Among the mistaken impressions that surround this holiday is the belief that the Declaration of Independence was signed on the fourth. Actually, the document was not officially signed until a full month later when a clean copy was produced; but August 2 passes each year with none of the festivities of the Fourth of July. Although July 4th is the date that appears on the top of the document, the Continental Congress actually voted to sever ties with England two days earlier. John Adams wrote to his wife Abigail that July 2, 1776, would be “the most memorable epoch in the history of America.” He was wrong.

A Time to Celebrate
July 4th marks the day that the Declaration was approved by the Congress, and the first Independence Day celebration occurred on July 8 when the document was publicly read in Philadelphia. The spontaneous celebration in the streets that day gave way the next year to planned festivities that included gunfire, bonfires, fireworks, bell-ringing, and oratory – elements of a traditional British birthday celebration for the king. Many towns turned their events into a mock funeral for King George and a birthday celebration for the young American nation.

Independence Day continued to be a politically charged holiday for many years, as the colonials rejoiced in their rebellion and politicians on both sides jockeyed for position in the developing nation. People exercised their newfound freedoms by gathering on July 4th to criticize political leaders in true American fashion.

Today’s Traditions
Although the holiday has since declined in its political emphasis, it remains a symbol of America’s continued freedom. Today, suburban barbecues have replaced heated debates in taverns. Citizens now celebrate their privileges by flying the American flag, enjoying patriotic music, and, of course, eating plenty of food.

July 4th competitive eating contests have flourished, viewed by participants as a way to prove their patriotism. In last year’s Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest, which has been held on Coney Island since 1916, the winning contestant consumed 68 hot dogs and buns in just 10 minutes.

Every town and state has its own July 4th traditions. Residents of Gatlinburg, Tennessee, will be demonstrating their patriotic fervor by gathering in the streets at 12 a.m. for their Midnight Independence Day Parade, which is going on its 35th year. Historic cities such as Boston and Philadelphia attract thousands with their parades, concerts, and spectacular fireworks. Some festivals stretch well over a week. New York City boasted the largest fireworks display last year, exploding 22 tons of pyrotechnics in 26 minutes.

The quieter citizen may enjoy a simpler day at home, firing up the barbecue with family and friends. In 2007, 78 million Americans participated in some type of Independence Day barbecue and July has been designated both National Grilling Month and National Family Reunion Month. For the 7.3 million vegetarians in the nation, the Vegetarian Awareness Network has ironically declared July 4th Independence from Meat Day.

But whether one consumes beef with their corn on the cob, or substitutes veggie burgers, Americans will undoubtedly enjoy their holiday in style. And good news for Ohio residents: a state law still on the books prohibits police from arresting lawbreakers on Sunday or on the 4th of July.

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