Independence Day: United States celebrates with red, white and blue

Blimp with "July 4th" etched in the balloon, with a patriotic striped basket holding two female passengers and one male passenger

A vintage Fourth of July postcard. Photo by Dave, courtesy of Flickr

FRIDAY, JULY 4: Today, on Independence Day, Americans celebrate our freedom with parades, picnics, reunions with family and friends—and fireworks exploding in the night sky. Nothing says “summer” in the U.S. quite like the Fourth of July, when the Stars and Stripes fly high and family cars fill the freeways. This year, AAA reports that 41 million Americans will be traveling at least 50 miles during the holiday weekend—up approximately 2 percent, from last year.

Even those not lucky enough to live near a city with a major fireworks display can tune into the first-ever live webcast of the Boston Pops concert and fireworks: the free event, attended by a half million people annually, will feature 2014 musical guests The Beach Boys and Smash actress Megan Hilty.

People gathered around the glass holding the Declaration of Independence, in large, neutral-hued building

The Declaration of Independence is on permanent display at the Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom of the National Archives building in Washington, D.C. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

A DECLARATION
& A NATIONAL HOLIDAY

The year was 1776, the weather was stifling hot and a brand-new nation was being formed. On July 2, 1776, the Continental Congress officially declared independence from the Kingdom of Great Britain. A Committee of Five, headed by principal author Thomas Jefferson, had worked on a formal Declaration of Independence. (Learn more from Wikipedia and History.com.)

Although some of those early leaders assumed that July 2 would be the day henceforth celebrated as America’s “anniversary festival,” they were off by two days: July 4 was the day that the Declaration’s final wording was approved. (Find American recipes, fireworks laws by state and much more at USA.gov.)

Did you know? National parks in Denmark hold the largest 4th of July celebrations outside of the U.S.

Though the decades immediately following 1776 didn’t hold much in the way of widespread Independence Day celebrations, printed copies of the Declaration of Independence began circulating in the 1820s and 1830s—and by 1870, Congress had deemed July 4 a national holiday. (Learn more about the Declaration, test your knowledge with quizzes and find out which Founding Father you would vote for, all at ConstitutionFacts.com.)

Red pail with cake-filled waffle cones, sprinkled with red, white and blue sprinkles

Fourth of July cake cones. Photo by Christi, courtesy of Flickr

JULY 4 RECIPES,
DIY DÉCOR
AND MORE

If Independence Day conjures visions of red, white and blue picnics, decorations and plenty of outdoor fun, look no further than these online resources for recipe ideas, patriotic crafts and instructions for festive decorations you can make yourself:

  • Looking to decorate your backyard or home for the Fourth? Check out ideas from MSN, HGTV and Martha Stewart.
  • Keep the kids happy with crafts from Disney’s Spoonful.
  • If too many mosquitos are biting in your neighborhood come nighttime, opt for an indoor activity: Reader’s Digest, ABC News and Boston.com suggest top picks for Independence Day movies. Next to live fireworks, who can’t agree that watching Nicolas Cage fight to save the Declaration of Independence doesn’t spur a little patriotic spirit in all of us?

(Originally published at readthespirit.com, an on line magazine covering religion, spirituality, values and interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)

Independence Day: Bells, fireworks and red, white and blue for the Fourth of July

“It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.”

John Adams, in a letter to his wife, Abigail, 1776

Red, orange and purple fireworks exploding at nighttime above St. Louis

Fireworks in St. Louis, MO, one of many cities that hosts celebrations on the Fourth of July. Photo courtesy of Flickr.

THURSDAY, JULY 4: Hang the red, white and blue bunting, light the barbecue and get ready for fireworks—it’s the Fourth of July! On this date in 1776, delegates of the Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence. (Wikipedia has details.)

4TH OF JULY FOOD:
FROM CRAWFISH AND TARTS TO HOT DOGS AND FLAG CAKE

Cooked crawfish on dinner plate

Photo in public domain

Thirteen British colonies separated themselves from Great Britain in July 1776. John Adams got a few things wrong as he predicted what would unfold. First, he anticipated the celebration would culminate on July 2, the date the Second Continental Congress voted to approve a resolution of independence. However, it wasn’t until July 4 that the Declaration of Independence was formally adopted. (Read more at History.com.) Adams expected solemn remembrances, each year—not the holiday bashes in many U.S. cities.

On the nation’s first anniversary, in 1777, 13 gunshots were fired in salute; fireworks exploded; an official dinner was held for the Continental Congress at City Tavern in Philadelphia. Barbecued hot dogs, hamburgers and potato salad weren’t on that first menu of the Fourth, though. In 1777, celebrants dined on rabbit, turkey, crawfish and lobsters with fruits, tarts, jellies and custards in place of today’s flag-shaped cakes and berry-dotted desserts. (USA Today has an article.) Since Philadelphia was a major port at the time, experts attest that exotic fruits and spices were likely on the menu in 1777, too.

SPENDING, TRAVEL TO SKYROCKET

Whether you’ll be hosting a gathering, attending one or just barbecuing in the backyard, enjoy the day off—it’s been a paid federal holiday since 1938. (Get more facts, stats and extras at USA.gov.)

During this, the most traveled vacation period of the summer, upward of 40 million Americans will travel at least 50 miles from home over July 4 this year, auto club AAA predicts. Planning to travel? Forbes suggests five key places to visit. Gas prices have increased only slightly since July 2012, and overall spending is expected to soar: People expect to spend almost 60 percent more on July 4 festivities this year, according to an annual national survey. (The LA Times reported.) More than 40 percent of Americans plan to buy fireworks.

RED, WHITE AND BLUE: PARTIES, RECIPES, CRAFTS AND MORE

Cone with ice cream and star red, white and blue sprinkles

Photo courtesy of flickr

Hosting a July 4 fete?