The United States is a very young country; not even 250 years old. Though the nation hasn’t been independent as long as other countries, Americans already have many customs and traditions for celebrating the USA’s birthday. Independence Day, held on the fourth of July, has a rich history and is celebrated by almost every American, but how each American celebrates can be different. In celebration of the USA’s continuing fight for the unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, here is a brief history of the holiday and how some Americans like to spend it.
The First Independence Day
The United States was not created as a country on its own, but was once under a sovereign nation (a country that has control over the government and citizens of a land somewhere else), England. The US was referred to as “The Colonies” because they were settlements that were established by England. The first English settlement in the US was created in 1607. After many years, more colonists and settlers arrived from Britain, and by 1776 the US was made up of 13 different colonies.
American settlers fought the French for land in The French and Indian War (also known as the Seven Years War) several years before in 1756. The Americans won with the help from American Indians and the British Army. The British raised very high taxes on the 13 Colonies to help pay for the war after they won, but the British didn’t let Americans have any say about the taxes in the government.
With slogans such as “No Taxation Without Representation”, “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death”, and “Don’t Tread on Me” circulating throughout all the 13 Colonies, American colonists became inspired to break away from England.
Patriot activists dressed as an Indian war party and dumped highly taxed tea into the Boston harbor (known as the Boston Tea Party). After people were killed for protesting against British Army quartering (when soldiers come into cities without permission and demand for people to let them stay in their homes) in Boston - also known as the Boston Massacre - people were ready to call for war. The first battle in the Revolutionary War (also known as the American War for Independence) was held at Lexington and Concord in 1775.
The Americans created their own form of government to help run the colonies, with each colony having several politicians present to represent them. This gathering of representatives was called The Continental Congress, and they met in Philadelphia (a city in Pennsylvania). Several representatives got together to propose gaining independence from England and for the colonies to unite as states and become a country of their own. Representatives from Virginia (Thomas Jefferson), Massachusetts (John Adams), and Pennsylvania (Benjamin Franklin) helped propose this movement in a document called The Declaration of Independence.
On July 4, 1776 the Continental Congress voted yes on The Declaration of Independence, officially declaring the colonies as states in the unified nation The United States of America. When the document was read to people throughout the new nation, there were bells ringing and fireworks.
How The Holiday is Celebrated
How Americans celebrate this nationwide summer holiday is very general. People do cookouts, listen to American music, and watch fireworks displays. Though Americans do these three activities, how they do so may differ to one another, or they may do several more activities.
In some cities, 4th of July parades are held during the day, displaying decorated parade floats and people in costumes. Some cities and towns still read The Declaration of Independence out loud from the city or town hall; other towns may have artillery salutes (feu de joie), or have military members fire 13 shots from their rifles (one shot for each of the original 13 colonies). If near a swimming pool, some Americans will go out and spend some of the hot summer day chilling and splashing in the water. Some people may go out on picnics instead of just staying home and cooking out.
What people may cook can also be different. Some American families can cook barbecue ribs and chicken on the grill, while some may eat fried chicken, hot dogs and hamburgers, or something completely different like Tex-Mex (a mix between Texas barbecue and Mexican food). Sides could vary from potato salad and ranch beans to fries and coleslaw (a cabbage, carrot, and mayonnaise salad). Some deserts could be firecracker ice pops, apple pie, trifle (a layered pudding and cake dessert), jello, cake, etc. Drinks could also vary- beer, rum, whisky, bourbon, kool-aid, etc. What one eats and drinks on the 4th of July could be different depending on where one is celebrating.
What to wear on the 4th of July also depends on where one is spending it. The holiday is in the summer, and it’s going to be hot in most places in the US. People usually wear denim and clothes with the colors of the American flag (red, white, and blue). Many people decorate their homes and businesses for the 4th of July, and many American flags are proudly displayed outside. Streets, buildings, and businesses are covered in the colors red, white, and blue.
At the end of the day, usually after sunset, all towns and cities in the United States hold fireworks shows. Masses of people gather to hear the loud boom of the fireworks and see the bright lights light up the dark sky. Usually shows are accompanied by American rock and folk songs, or patriotic songs such as the national anthem “The Star Spangled Banner”, “Stars and Stripes Forever”, “God Bless the USA”, “The Caisson Song”, “Yankee Doodle”, “America the Beautiful”, “Dixie”, etc. Though the smoke after the fireworks finale is thick and heavy in the summer’s humid air, it signals the end of America’s biggest and most celebrated holiday.
Unalienable: Impossible to take away or give up.
Pursuit of Happiness: The right to freely pursue joy and live life in a way that makes you happy, as long as you don't do anything illegal or take away the rights of others.
To Break Away: To gain independence; to seperate.
Dumped: To throw or put (something) somewhere in a quick and careless way.
Quartering Act of 1765: A law making The Colonies house British soldiers in places provided by the colonies.
Cookouts: A meal or party at which food is cooked and served outdoors.
Parade Float: A vehicle with a platform used to carry an exhibit in a parade.
Artillery Salutes: Firing of cannons or guns as a military honor.
Rifles: A gun that has a long barrel and that is held against your shoulder when you shoot it.
Splashing: To cause (water or another liquid) to move in a noisy way or messy way.
Sides: In addition to the main meal.
Denim: A firm often coarse cotton cloth (like overalls and jeans).
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Lauren Leveque is a student at Northern Virginia Community College studying political science . She loves going to new places and has traveled to 9 different countries so far. She speaks English, French, and some Korean. Some of her hobbies is watching foreign films and visiting new places in Kyiv.