By now your family has probably made plans for the July Fourth holiday. Maybe you have a tradition of seeing the fireworks display in your community, or having a barbeque or picnic. Colonial Americans also celebrated the Fourth, although they did so somewhat differently than we do today. One year after the Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence, Philadelphia celebrated Independence Day with bells, bonfires, and fireworks. Music and speeches were part of the festivities, too. Independence Day did not become a nationwide holiday immediately, however. Massachusetts became the first state to make the Fourth of July a statewide holiday in 1781.
Independence Day celebrations gained popularity in the 1800s, especially during the war of 1812 when the U.S. fought Britain again. By the time the 50th anniversary of independence came, however, some people expressed concern that the occasion would not be dignified. Although there were no television ads promoting retail store sales like today, people worried that the Fourth’s semi-centennial would be observed “in the usual way, that is, by frying chickens, firing away damaged powder, or fuddling our noses over tavern wine.” Instead the states made plans for dinners, parades, and readings of the Declaration. In 1870, Congress made July 4th a federal holiday.
Since the 1800s, the Fourth of July became an occasion for family barbeques and fireworks displays that grew increasingly elaborate. Some families, however, have fun but also have traditions that emphasize the importance of the holiday to our nation. For example, the family of Liz Seymour gathers for a family reunion each year on Cape Cod. After swimming and enjoying good food, her uncle brings out a copy of the Declaration of Independence and passes it around so each person, including the kids, reads a passage or two.
However your family decides to celebrate on July 4th, take a moment to be grateful for the freedoms we have thanks to those who signed the Declaration of Independence and those who continue to fight for the U.S. on battlefields across the world.