During Sukkot, Jews around the world recall the fragility of life in leafy huts

As the sign near the doorway says, this is “A Pleasant Sukkah” in a family’s New England back yard.

sukkah for Sukkot

Eating brunch in a sukkah. Photo by sikeri, courtesy of Flickr

SUNSET MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 20: There’s hardly a more pandemic-appropriate religious festival than the ancient Jewish celebration of Sukkot, when families build fragile structures with leafy thatching overhead to remind themselves of the ancient Israelites’ living quarters during their 40 years in the desert. For a week, they try to eat meals and some even sleep in their sukkahs.

For example, David Suissa writes in The Jewish Journal“The coronavirus, which has turned so many buildings into danger zones, has only reinforced the Sukkot message of the vulnerability and impermanence of physical structures.”

That theme is echoed in The Jerusalem Post: “Celebrating Sukkot during a global pandemic for the second year running already heightens our sense of impermanence and vulnerability.”

Jews enter this season each year following the Jewish High Holidays. Tradition calls on Jews to construct and then dwell in temporary structures, called sukkahs, during Sukkot. As Sukkot is, agriculturally, a harvest festival, many sukkahs are decorated with autumn crops. In the U.S., it is not uncommon to see sukkahs decorated with gourds, pumpkins, squash and other foods associated with fall. Traditionally work is halted on the first and second days of Sukkot, with the days in between reserved for relaxation (though work is permitted on these days).


Though sukkahs may look vastly different, the builders try to abide by specific rules. A sukkah must have at least 2.5 walls covered with a material that cannot be blown away by wind; the roof must be made of something that grew from the ground and was cut off, such as tree branches, corn stalks or wooden boards. The roof materials of a sukkah must be left loose, so that rain can get in and, preferably, the stars can be seen at nighttime. (Learn more from Judaism 101.)

Looking for autumn recipes, tips on building a sukkah and more? Check out the resources at My Jewish Learning, Chabad.org and Aish.com.

An etrog fruit, one of the Four Species. Photo by Marina, courtesy of PublicDomainPictures.net

A sukkah may be any size so long as a family can dwell in it, and many Jews spend as much time as possible in the sukkah. It is common to eat meals in the sukkah, and some Jews even choose to sleep in it.

Another custom associated with Sukkot involves the Four Species. The Four Species—the etrog (a citrus fruit native to Israel), the lulav (palm branch), aravot (two willow branches) and hadassim (three myrtle branches) are used to “rejoice before the L_rd.” With the etrog in one hand and the branches bound together in the other hand, blessings are recited. The branches are waved in all directions, to symbolize that G_d is everywhere.

Note: The two days following Sukkot are Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah, which celebrate the spiritual aspects of Sukkot and the cyclical public reading of the Torah, respectively.

National Hispanic Heritage Month celebrates contributions of Latino culture

This photo is just one of the many media resources you’ll find by visiting this Smithsonian hub for National Hispanic Heritage Month. Click on this photo to visit that web hub co-sponsored by many agencies, including the Library of Congress and the National Park Service.


SEPTEMBER 15-OCTOBER 15—More than half a century ago, Americans began celebrating our nation’s rich Hispanic heritage. President Johnson began with a week-long festival in 1968, which was extended to a whole month by President George H.W. Bush in 1989.

Why does this “month” start in the middle of a month? Because independence movements across Latin America began in mid-September 1810 with an event known as the Cry of Dolores. This touched off the Mexican War of Independence and, within a decade, the former colony of New Spain broke up into independent nations of Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Honduras and Nicaragua.

Care to learn more?

Our publishing house has a number of books that are helping readers to learn about our Hispanic and Latino heritage. First, here is a quick video overview:

Where can I find these Hispanic-themed books?

100-QA-Hispanics-Large-BookOur books are sold via Amazon, Barnes & Noble and through other online retailers including Walmart.

We recommend that you start with 100 Questions & Answers about Hispanics and Latinos, a terrific resource book produced by the Michigan State University School of Journalism along with a blue-ribbon panel of Hispanic leaders nationwide.

Two other books in this MSU “Bias Busters” series explore related subjects:

Care to see the entire list of 18 volumes in the MSU Bias Busters’ series? Here is the Bias Busters series page at Amazon.

Solutions for Success is a book about an innovative program in Detroit that teaches Hispanic-immigrant parents English while these parents also are ensuring their children’s success at school. From cleaning up schoolyards to hosting a neighborhood celebration of literacy, these newcomers are transforming their city.

Raksha Bandhan: Celebrating love of brothers and sisters, even during a pandemic

Woman at market in front of rows and boxes of colorfu bracelets

A woman browses a marketplace for rakhi. Photo by Vishal Dutta, courtesy of Flickr

SUNDAY, AUGUST 22: Once again in 2021, the Indian celebration of sibling love will be complicated by the COVID pandemic that continues to run rampant across many parts of Asia.

Indian government advisories against unnecessary travel are likely to continue through August. As a helpful adaptation, the government also has announced additional resources for the country’s postal service to deliver a growing number of Raksha Bandhan packages this year. Special counters now are open in many regional post offices to fast-track the process of mailing such holiday gifts.

The popularity of Raksha Bandhan continues to swell across India and in Hindu communities worldwide, including fashionable new wrist ties and bracelets every year. Over many centuries, the rakhi (from Sanskrit, “the tie or knot of affection”) has evolved from simple, handspun threads into bangles adorned in jewels, crystals, cartoon characters and even political figures.

The simple gift expresses renewed love between siblings and sometimes between others who share a bond of brotherhood. Typically, today, women present a rakhi to men and, in return, the men promise to protect the women who offer them a bracelet. Although usually associated with Hinduism, Raksha Banhan has now reached a wider cultural status—often celebrated by Jains, Sikhs and even some Muslims across India, Mauritus, parts of Nepal and Pakistan.

What is a rakhi?

A rakhi is a type of bracelet—intricately designed or simple, expensive or handmade—tied onto a brother’s wrist by his sister. The fragile thread of rakhi represents the subtle yet impermeable strength that exists between siblings. The sacred relationship between brother and sister is considered unparalleled, as even when a woman marries, her brother’s duties as protector do not cease. On a broader scale, Raksha Bandhan is a time for harmonious existence and a bond between leaders—teachers, political figures, civil authorities—and those they serve.


Throughout August 2021, Indian shops will offer a bright palette of threads for women making their own rakhi; shops also are stocked with colorful premade rakhi. Men also shop market stands, searching for a token of love for their sisterly Raksha Bandhan companion.

The morning of the festival, brothers and sisters greet one another—if possible—in person and in the presence of other family members. The sister ties a rakhi on her brother’s wrist, reciting prayers for his well-being and applying a colorful tilak mark to his forehead. The brother responds with thanks and a renewal of his sibling commitment, and the two indulge in sweet foods. The brother presents the sister with a gift, and everyone present rejoices in the gladness of family—often with a festive meal.

Some of the most popular Indian treats enjoyed on Raksha Bandhan may be surprisingly sweet to Westerners unaccustomed to Indian cuisine. A prime example is gulab jamun. Think of a donut hole soaked in syrup! India-based NDTV’s Food channel already has published tips for home-made gulab Jamun. Want other culinary options? NDTV’s Food channel also published these 11 suggestions for other delightful holiday dishes. The non-alcoholic Mango Basil Colada sounds especially refreshing!

Interested in making your own rakhi? Find 15 kid- and adult-friendly ideas at the blog Artsy Craftsy Mom, which features simple to complex DIY rakhi instructions.

A National Holiday

Raksha Bandhan is so popular that nearly every year the entire country seems to be involved in the festival. That represents a major cultural evolution throughout the last century, since the festival originated as a custom associated with northern India. Fueling the nationwide and now worldwide popularity were Bollywood movies that occasionally have focused on the festival—and, since the explosion of the Internet, the global marketing of Indian fashions.

In 2021, both of those cultural influences are coming together in an upcoming Bollywood movie titled simply, Raksha Bandhan. Due to pandemic delays, the movie won’t be released in time for this year’s holiday. IMDB says it won’t debut until at least November 2021. The movie’s tagline captures the ideal theme of this holiday: “A story of the purest relationship ever.”

Holiday shopping now involves far more than the traditional thread-and-bead craft supplies and finished bracelets. Sales of pastries and other sweets now boom at Raksha Bandhan—and fashions, too!

The Times of India recently published a holiday-themed fashion story, advising women: “This year Rakhi will be celebrated on August 22. So what if you cannot step out to mark the festival? You can always dress up and get on a video call with your brothers to celebrate the day together. With Raksha Bandhan just around the corner, it’s time for you to prep for the most memorable day with your siblings and family. Celebrate the festival in style with these celeb-inspired looks to wear this Rakhi.” Care to read more? Here’s that Times story.

Commemorating Martyrs in the Ancient Assyrian Church of the East in Iraq

Assyrian refugees in 1915.


Archimandrite Emanuel Youkhana

SATURDAY, AUGUST 7—Meet Archimandrite Emanuel Youkhana, archimandrite and priest of the Assyrian Church of the East in Iraq. Many Western Christians may be surprised to hear about the Christian presence in Iraq, but Iraqi Christians have had a continual presence since the first century after Jesus’ life and death.

Archimandrite Emanuel does not have formal seminary training because under Saddam Hussein’s rule from 1979-2003, there was no seminary education in Iraq. Instead, Emanuel studied electrical engineering at the University of Baghdad. After informal training through the Assyrian Church, he was ordained in 1987. He is married and has four adult children, most of whom went on to study politics and now live in Iraq and Germany.

The Assyrian church is an Eastern-tradition of the church, claiming theological and ecclesiastical continuity back to the first century after Jesus’ life. According to the Seyfo Center, “Assyrian” refers to “indigenous Christian peoples living in” Kurdistan, northern Mesopotamia, Northern Iran, South Anatolia and Syria“who speak (or once spoke) an Aramaic Semitic language.”

Assyrians have endured so many persecutions that they dedicate three days a year specifically to the commemoration of martyrs. April 24 commemorates the Turkish genocide of Assyrians during World War I, concurrently with the Armenian genocide, known as the Seyfo (Aramaic word for “sword”). Between 1914 and 1920, and especially between June and October 1915, the Ottoman Empire murdered more than 250,000 of the 600,000 Assyrians living in present-day southeastern Turky and Western Iran. Nearly all of the rest were forced to migrate to Syria and northern Iraq.

Second, The first Friday after Easter commemorates the faithful who were martyred specifically for their Christian faith, known as the Confessors. Friday of Confessors is known as a joyful feast

Third, August 7 commemorates all Assyrian martyrs, but specifically remembers the massacre of several thousand Christians in 1933. Iraqi general Bakr Sidqi systematically targeted Assyrians in the town of Simele in Iraqi Kurdistan.

An Assyrian Christian family photographed in the era of the massacres.

While extra attention is paid to martyrs on August 7 and April 24, most of the church’s liturgies commemorate martyrs to some degree. The Church holds daily evening and morning prayers, each of which have hymns dedicated to martyrs. The Church remembers martyrs everyday except for Sundays, when they instead commemorate resurrection, during Lent, when a separate liturgy is observed.

Many martyrs are remembered personally, and continue to be a source of spiritual strength for the Church today: “Peace to thee, Mar Pithiun the martyr. Spiritual treasurer. Supply wealth to the needy. Who take refuge in thy prayers.” “Let us take refuge in St. George. That by the strength of his prayers. Our Lord may make straight our ways. And lighten the weight of our limbs” (PS Cxv 13, page 23-24, First Tuesday evening).

Martyrs are often compared to jewels, and the liturgy contains many metaphors describing the martyrs’ beauty:

“The martyrs are like pearls. For their images are fixed in the King’s crown” (Monday evening, 13).

“Fairer to look on than the children of men. The rose in the gardens is beautiful to behold. But more beautiful were the martyrs when they were killed” (Monday evening, page 14).

Archimandrite Emanuel held the first Christian worship service in Simele since the 1933 massacre. Freshly ordained, Archimandrite Emanuel was invited to start a parish and begin regular church services in 1987, where he has been serving since.

But persecution of Christians in Iraq does not remain in history past, rather it continues today. When asked to describe Iraqi Christians’ persecution today, Archimandrite Emanuel told this story:

Persecution here is more than personal; it’s also communal. In 2014, the city of Qaraqosh in Nineveh Plain had more than 50,000 Christians, with a large building and comfortable staff. They had schools, multiple clergy, even libraries and a seminary. Then on August 6—the anniversary of the 1933 massacre— everything was destroyed at the hands of ISIL, known in Arabic as Daesh. Churches were targeted specifically because they are Christian. Only recently have the small number of Christians remaining begun to rebuild the city.

In 1993, Archimandrite Emanuel was part of a team founding CAPNI (Christian Aid Program in Nohadra Iraq), an NGO in Dohuk, Iraq (Nohadra is the historical Assyrian name of the Duhok region. CAPNI’s goal is to “materialize hope” for Christians in Iraq. Abuna Emanuel explains, “Sermons mean little when a father asks for his livelihood, a mother for her medicine, children for their schools. Offering services and bringing people together materializes hope.” Learn more about CAPNI’s many services here.

Archimandrite Emanuel hopes that Western Christians would learn from the Assyrian church what it is like to live under persecution. Something unique about the Assyrian church, A. Emanuel explains, is that despite having a continual Christian presence since the first century after Jesus’ life, they have never lived under Christian rulers.

When asked how Western Christians can support the Assyrian Church, Archimandrite Emanuel explained that “God chose us to be his witnesses in these lands, and we accept this mission. We will carry his cross. We don’t ask for light burdens, we ask for strong shoulders. Our shoulders can be strengthened through your prayers as well. So keep us in prayer.”

When asked how he finds hope despite such discouraging circumstances, Abuna Emanuel explained he looks to the next generation: “When you visit a family, and the kids are smiling. We have five kids’ centers at CAPNI. And we have nice flowers in the gardens. Then, I feel and see hope in the children’s smiles and hugs and playfulness.”

The following prayer is another way Western Christians can express solidarity with these Christians:

Merciful God, we ask you to strengthen the shoulders of the Assyrian Church. Before you, we thank our Assyrian siblings for carrying the burden of remembering martyrs and facing daily persecution. As Assyrian martyrs instruct and encourage Assyrians alive today, may Assyrian Christians also instruct and encourage us Western Christians in the faith.


KEVIN VOLLRATH is a Ph.D. candidate in Religion & Society at Princeton Theological Seminary. He produced this series of columns as the Ambassador Warren Clark Fellow of Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP). His home base is in Lambertville, NJ, but he currently is conducting fieldwork in Israel-Palestine.


Cautiously, Muslims around the world celebrate Hajj festival of Eid al-Adha

Crowd of Muslims gathers, sitting, for prayer, in a field

In years before the pandemic, Eid al-Adha prayers were offered in vast community gatherings. Above, Muslims gather for Eid prayer in Bangladesh. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons


SUNSET MONDAY, JULY 19As we reported in our earlier Hajj story, Hajj 2021 is a tiny sampling of the normally jam-packed experience in the holy sites, due to pandemic restrictions. However, in many parts of the world, families are eager to return to larger gatherings for prayer and shared meals. Various government bodies around the world are issuing warnings and, in some cases, legal restrictions on gatherings. Only news reports this week will tell us how much the pandemic has limited public celebrations.

Whatever unfolds this week in public settings, Muslims of all ages certainly will be remembering Ibrahim (Abraham) and his complete willingness to make a sacrifice during Eid al-Adha, the Feast of the Sacrifice. On the first morning of the Eid festival, Tuesday July 20 in 2021, crowds would fill mosques, sometimes overflowing into sidewalks, parking lots, open fields and parks around the world. Officially, Eid al-Adha begins after the descent of Mount Arafat by the pilgrims on Hajj in Mecca; Muslims across the globe normally gather with family and friends and offer prayers in congregation.


Two joyous religious holidays are observed by all Muslims each year: Eid al-Fitr, ending the fasting month of Ramadan, and Eid al-Adha.

On the morning of Eid al-Adha, Muslims dress in their finest clothing and offer prayers in congregation. Visits are made, and even non-Muslims are invited to take part in the feasts and festivities.

Jews and Christians are familiar with the Bible story of the patriarch Abraham and a call to sacrifice his son Isaac. According to Muslim tradition, the story focuses on Ibrahim and his son Ishmael. In the Islamic version, when Ibrahim lowers his arm toward his son, the Archangel Gabriel places a ram on the altar instead of Ishmael. In commemoration, Muslims sacrifice an animal on Eid al-Adha, keeping one-third of the share; giving one-third to relatives and neighbors; and donating the remaining one-third to the poor.

sweets platter of cookies

Cookies prepared for Eid al-Adha in Israel. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

THE ‘GREATER EID’                

Sometimes called the Greater Eid (the Lesser Eid, Eid ul-Fitr, occurs at the end of Ramadan), Eid al-Adha calls able Muslims to sacrifice a halal animal. By sharing, it is ensured that even the most impoverished person may celebrate Eid. The animal sacrifice—which must meet specific age and quality requirements—may be performed anytime before sunset on the final day of Eid. Families that do not own an animal to slaughter contribute to a charity that will provide meat for the needy.

It is Islamic custom to exchange joyful greetings, present gifts to children and visit with family and friends during this joyous time. The events of Eid al-Adha last between one and four days, although in some regions, festivities carry on even longer.


The Hajj 2021: Sharp Limitations for a Second Year in COVID Pandemic

Hajj Kaaba Muslims pilgrims

OVERWHELMING NUMBERS of people usually make the annual Hajj a real-life experience of the global diversity of Islam. Photo of an earlier Hajj by Hassan Morowa, courtesy of Pexels


SATURDAY, JULY 17: Millions of Muslims who planned to make the pilgrimage to Mecca this year will be staying home as Saudi Arabia, the keeper of the holy places, has announced a COVID-limited Hajj for the second straight year.

Here is the latest reporting from Arab News, the English-language newspaper published from Saudi Arabia, headlined: Saudi authorities unveil operational plan for Hajj season. Central to this year’s plan is a limitation of only 60,000 pilgrims—and only Muslims already residing inside Saudi Arabia.

The United States Centers for Disease Control reports that this news parallels the CDC’s own recommendation that Americans not attempt to travel to Saudi Arabia for this year’s Hajj. The CDC’s key points include:

  • The Hajj pilgrimage to Islamic holy sites in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, is one of the world’s largest mass gatherings. Hajj will take place July 17-July 22, 2021.
  • On June 12, 2021, the Saudi Ministry of Hajj and Umrah officially announced that only people currently residing in Saudi Arabia will be permitted to make the pilgrimage this year because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
  • CDC recommends that Americans already in Saudi Arabia not make the pilgrimage. Mass gatherings, such as Hajj, can increase the risk of getting and spreading COVID-19 because it can be hard to practice physical distancing.
  • Even fully vaccinated people may be at risk for getting and spreading COVID-19 variants.
  • Medical resources in Saudi Arabia may be limited.

Among the pillars of Islam, the world’s nearly 2 billion Muslims are expected to visit Mecca and fulfill the Hajj rituals that reenact the actions of the Prophet Muhammad in his “farewell pilgrimage,” in 632 AD. Arriving via every mode of transportation available and from countries that circle the globe, this annual Islamic pilgrimage is widely considered the largest annual gathering in the world.

It’s a Perfect Opportunity to Meet ‘Our Muslim Neighbors’

Click this cover to jump back to early 2019 for our story about the launch of “Our Muslim Neighbors,” explaining the importance of meeting the Muslim families who are such important parts of our communities.

In the U.S.—Pew Research estimates there are 3.45 million Muslims, making up 1.1 percent of the American population.

However, most Americans have never actually met our millions of Muslim neighbors.

To help celebrate the Hajj this year—it’s time to change that. It’s time to reach out and talk with our Muslim co-workers and neighbors. If we do reach out, we usually discover new friends with similar values—and the entire community is enriched by our new friendships.

That is why we are urging all of our readers to turn back to this January 2019 cover story in which we suggest a way to take that next step—through the pages of Victor Begg’s new memoir.

You will meet Victor, his wife Shahina and their entire family in this engaging book, titled Our Muslim Neighbors—Achieving the American Dream, an Immigrant’s MemoirThe book includes Victor’s description of his own Hajj experiences, which is a great way for non-Muslims to learn about this centuries-old tradition that is limited to Muslims.

Readers also will recognize their own core American values as they enjoy reading about Victor’s courageous attempts to live out those values, sometimes in the midst of tragedy.

“This is a true blue American story—my story of how I came to this country and built a successful business and a life for my family that contributed to our community in so many ways,” Victor says. “Along the way, I realized that most Americans don’t know any Muslims and that heightened bigotry arises because people don’t know that our families are just like their families. We share so many community and spiritual values—and we would discover that if we simply reached out—if we simply got to know each other.”

That’s also what Bill Tammeus, one of the most respected religion writers in the U.S., concluded after reading Victor’s book. Here’s a sample of what Bill wrote:

This is a highly personal story, but Begg’s experience and thinking can encourage all Americans to get to know their Muslim neighbors—to say nothing of neighbors of all other (and no) religious traditions. When people are religiously illiterate, it can lead to fear, which can lead to hate, which can lead to violence. We’ve been there before. This book is a helpful road map in a better direction.


Muslim travelers Hajj

Travelers during the season of Hajj. Photo by Muritala Yusuf Olanrewaju, courtesy of Needpix.com

Islamic tradition tells that in approximately 2000 BCE, Abraham was ordered by God to leave his wife, Hagar, and his son, Ishmael, in the desert of Mecca while he traveled to Canaan. After Abraham left, food and water quickly ran out; Hagar ran back and forth between the hills of Safa and Marwa seven times. Exhausted, Hagar laid Ishmael on the sand and begged God for help. Miraculously, a well sprang up at the baby’s feet, and that well—the Zamzam Well—continues to provide ample water to Hajj pilgrims today. Later, according to Muslim tradition, Abraham was commanded to build the Kaaba, so that people could perform pilgrimage there. It is believed that the Archangel Gabriel brought the Black Stone from heaven to be attached to the Kaaba, and today, the Black Stone marks the beginning and ending point of each circle a pilgrim makes as he circulates the Kaaba during Hajj.

Jahiliyyah: During a time known as jahiliyyah in pre-Islamic Arabia, the Kaaba had become surrounded by pagan idols. To cleanse the Kaaba, the Prophet Muhammad led his followers from Medina to Mecca in what is now regarded as the first Hajj. The pagan idols were destroyed, and Muhammad rededicated the Kaaba to God. At this point, Hajj became one of the five pillars of Islam, and adherents have been making the journey ever since.




Fourth of July: Fireworks are back (mostly) as Americans celebrate Independence Day

Fireworks from a White House balcony July 4, 2000, courtesy of the White House Fourth of July portal, which is linked below in this article.

SUNDAY, JULY 4: Barbecues are firing up and backyard celebrations will be plentiful this Fourth of July, as many public events return across America.

The staff at Parade magazine embarked this year on an exhaustive 50-state tour of top fireworks destinations. After all that research, Parade concludes: “Unfortunately, last year, firework displays were canceled in many places around the country due to the rapidly spreading coronavirus. Thankfully, restrictions have started to lift in most states as more and more people get vaccinated, and firework extravaganzas are returning to communities for the Fourth of July 2021!”

Shooting off your own fireworks this year? Get safety tips from the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Seems as though editors nationwide had the same idea, because the Forbes magazine staff researched a slightly different approach to holiday recommendations nationwide, headlined: Creative Fourth Of July Suggestions, From Mini-Cruises To The Country’s Oldest Parade

Then, the editors at Delish magazine came up with yet another slant on the story: The 11 best Fourth of July Sales This Year.

One of the big news stories this summer is the return of a White House Fourth of July celebration. Want to know more? The White House website has a multi-media rich portal about the history of Fourth of July observances, dating all the way back to Thomas Jefferson.

Our tip on all of these events is: Plan ahead and check locally for the latest details. While many venues are running full scale—many are not yet back on the calendar. One big disappointment in the Chicago area, this year, is that Navy Pier has decided to cancel its July 4 fireworks display for a second straight year. Even though public health officials are opening up big venues to the public, the Navy Pier staff announced that they could not scramble fast enough to schedule their signature pull-out-all-the-stops pyrotechnic display this summer. They’re telling Chicago fireworks fans to come back in 2022.

JULY 2 and JULY 4

With the fledgling battles of the Revolutionary War in April 1775, few colonists considered complete independence from Great Britain. Within a year, however, hostilities toward Great Britain were building and the desire for independence was growing, too. Thomas Paine’s 1776 pamphlet, “Common Sense,” fueled the unifying aspiration for independence. Though the legal separation of the Thirteen Colonies from Great Britain took place on July 2, 1776, it was two days later—July 4—when the Second Continental Congress gave its approval.

July 4th colonial

The Fourth of July in Philadelphia, 1819. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons



The year was 1776, and the weather was stifling hot as a brand-new nation was being formed. In June of that year, the Continental Congress appointed a five-person committee to draft a formal statement that would vindicate the break with Great Britain: Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Roger Sherman and Robert R. Livingston. Jefferson, considered the most articulate writer in the group, crafted the original draft. On July 2, 1776, the Continental Congress officially declared independence from the Kingdom of Great Britain; a total of 86 changes were made to the draft before its final adoption on July 4, by the Second Continental Congress.

One year following, in 1777, Philadelphia marked the Fourth of July with an official dinner, toasts, 13-gun salutes, music, parades, prayers and speeches. As the new nation faced challenges, however, celebrations fell out of favor during ensuing decades. It wasn’t until after the War of 1812 that printed copies of the Declaration of Independence again were widely circulated, and festivities marked America’s Independence Day.

Fast fact: Congress declared July 4 a national holiday in 1870.


A salute of one gun for each U.S. states is fired on July 4 at noon by any capable military base, and in the evening, A Capitol Fourth—a free concert broadcast live by PBS, NPR and the American Forces Network—takes place on the Capitol lawn in Washington, D.C. The White House has announced that President Trump plans to host an Independence Day celebration again this year, despite the coronavirus pandemic, with military demonstrations, fireworks and a speech.

Fourth of July treat

Photo courtesy of Piqsels


Get out those red, white and blue decorations and recipes!

From the perfect grilled steak to a fresh-fruit patriotic cake, find recipes from Martha Stewart, AllRecipes, Food Network, Food & Wine, Rachael Ray and Real Simple.

For party and decor tips, check out HGTV’s easy entertaining ideas, Americana style suggestions and backyard party tips. Reader’s Digest offers 21 fun party games fit for any celebration of the Fourth.

Kids can craft decorations or their own apparel with help from Parents.com and Disney.com.

Crowds gathered on the White House South Lawn for the Fourth of July in 1980, another historic photo courtesy of the White House July 4 portal. Click on this photo to visit that portal.