You’re probably finalizing your Fourth of July plans right about now. Maybe you’re headed to a picnic with fireworks, or taking your family to a parade to mark this patriotic occasion — but do you know why we celebrate these 4th of July traditions?
Few people do. But each standby tends to have a special meaning in our nation’s history. Take a look at just a few of the reasons we toast the Fourth, and how some of us celebrate across America.
Think the birth of American took place on July 4, 1776? It’s not as simple as you might think. According to James Heintze’s book The Fourth of July Encyclopedia, John Adams predicted we might cheer the nation on a different day: “The second day of July 1776 will be the most memorable epocha in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival,” the future President wrote. While the Continental Congress voted for independence on July 2, copies of the declaration weren’t circulated for two days — which is why we celebrate Independence Day on the fourth of July. In 1941, Congress finally made the date an official national holiday.
Lighting up the sky with fireworks was first given the go-ahead in 1777, just one year after the Declaration of Independence was signed. According to the American Pyrotechnics Association, some 14,000 fireworks displays take place on the Fourth each year. In 2007, fireworks racked up $930 million in sales in the United States alone. Major displays take place each year on the Capitol lawn in Washington, D.C., Chicago over Lake Michigan, and in San Diego over Mission Bay.
Today we have picnics and barbecues on Independence Day, overflowing with traditional summertime foods like hamburgers, hot dogs, salads, drinks, and more — and the spirit of excess has always been a 4th of July tradition. General George Washington, for instance, handed out double rations of rum to his troops during the American Revolution to mark the occasion. The spirit of overindulging is still on display today — like during Nathan’s Famous Fourth of July International Hot Dog-Eating Contest in New York, where participants try to consume as many franks as possible in just 10 minutes.
Often held in the morning to make room for fireworks in the evening, parades are a long-standing tradition on the Fourth of July. They take place across the country and dot many major cities, including one in Washington, D.C. that begins on Constitution Avenue, featuring big floats, a marching band, and tons of balloons. Early in our nation’s history, these events were about publicly displaying loyalty to the United States over the British Empire.