For Americans, the Fourth of July marks a special day known as Independence Day. The holiday usually includes fireworks, cooking food on a grill outside, and flags hung almost everywhere. The celebrations on their own are fun to take part in, but there’s a history to this holiday, and a reason why Americans do the things they do on the Fourth of July.
The United States of America was originally a British colony; after the British began imposing taxes without letting the colonies have a voice in the decision, the United States (or American Colonies, as they were known in the 1770s) decided to separate themselves from the British Empire and create a new government of their own. A decision of this magnitude needed to be officially documented, so the first Congress asked Thomas Jefferson, who would later become the third President of the United States, to write a formal letter to the British king, King George III. The letter contained reasons as to why the colonies were making the decision to cut off ties with England, and as the end result was the colonies declaring themselves to be independent, the letter was called the Declaration of Independence.
The rumor is that the Declaration of Independence was signed and officiated on July fourth. However, it was actually signed on August 2nd, 1776. Congress agreed on the final version of the Declaration on July 2nd, and the Declaration itself received the date of July 4th. Since this is the recorded date on the Declaration, July 4th is the day Americans celebrate. The first Independence Day took place in 1777, one year after the passing of the Declaration. The holiday was only held in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and was an informal sort of state celebration. It wasn’t until after the War of 1812 that Independence Day began to be recognized and celebrated as a national holiday. In every state, fairs, fireworks, and time with friends and family became a natural part of July 4th.
One of the easiest things to notice about the Fourth of July is the abundance of flags flying. This is done as a way of showing honor and respect to the country, as well as to all those who have served it, whether they were the ones who signed their name to the Declaration or those who have fought in the United States military. The flag itself was approved by Congress as the “official” flag of the United States in June of 1777. The colors of the flag were chosen due to the special meaning attributed to each color. Red stands for bravery and spirit; white symbolizes hope and purity of life and character. Blue, on which one white star for each state is placed, symbolizes loyalty, truth, justice, and the color of heaven.
Fireworks are another popular tradition of Independence Day, while they’re definitely not a new way of celebrating. The use of fireworks in celebrations has been around since ancient China; fireworks feature prominently in the celebration of the Chinese Lunar New Year. However, they were integrated into the celebration of the Fourth of July as a way to remind citizens of the Revolutionary War, and the price that was paid for the honor and privilege of a free and independent country. Fireworks were intended as much to entertain as they were to represent guns, cannons, and explosions during a battle.
Many American families take this day as a chance to go outdoors and picnic together or with friends, and celebrate a sense of community and brotherhood. There are often local fairs, carnivals, or barbeques held as a way to have fun and contribute to the idea of spending a day together. A common song heard on Independence Day is the national anthem of the United States of America: “The Star-Spangled Banner,” written in 1814 by Francis Scott Key, who wrote the lyrics after seeing an American flag flying to signal American refusal to surrender to the British in the Battle of Baltimore. The flag that inspired Francis Scott Key has been preserved, and resides in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History to this day.
The Fourth of July may seem at first glance to just be an excuse to eat junk food and make lots of noise, but the history and tradition behind it stem from serious roots. This holiday encourages Americans to give thanks for the personal freedom and liberties they enjoy, and to remember what their country stands to protect.
For more information about Independence Day, or for some fun Independence Day crafts and quizzes, check out the links provided below!