Fourth Of July: Then & Now

The way we celebrate Independence Day has changed dramatically over the years!
Ah, the Fourth of July, that day when Americans come together to celebrate adopting the final draft of the Declaration of Independence. What better way to encapsulate the U S of A than with a table buckling under the weight of grilled meats and cold pasta salads; a parade where sugary treats are hurled at shouting children by grown men with tiny hats driving tiny cars; all followed by a nighttime display of the loudest, most colorful fireworks that can be found?
The Fourth has not always been celebrated in this way. Fourth of July traditions have changed drastically throughout the years, from 1776 to the 240-year anniversary this year in 2016. Let’s hop on the history train and go back in time to look at how America has recognized our independence throughout the years.
This was the year that the Second Continental Congress came together to symbolically declare the nation independent. Since telephone lines and Twitter accounts were a few more years down the line, they sent the message to major cities to be read to the public. That’s right, no microphones, no taking selfies with the town crier in the background, just a person with a very loud voice spreading the word. As if this wasn’t a brazen enough slap in the face, some colonists staged mock funerals of King George III to symbolize the triumph of freedom, in stark contrast to the birthday celebrations for the same king held by the 13 colonies in the years leading up to 1776.
The War for Independence waged on for a few years, until finally the colonists became victorious and America was born. The Fourth of July was adopted in numerous places throughout the infant country; perhaps in the interest of encouraging an optimistic spirit, the Boston Massacre’s date of March 5th was replaced by the Fourth of July as the major patriotic holiday. They recognized the auspicious day with speeches, parades, military events, and fireworks.
It wouldn’t be until almost halfway through the 20th century that Congress would declare July 4th America’s Independence Day. In 1941 they made 7/4 an official holiday, setting it up to be the nation’s go-to happy-go-lucky holiday: after World War II the USA was overtaken by a huge mood overhaul, with its citizens feigning happiness and an “everything is great!” attitude in order to recover from the devastating effects the war had on the country’s ethos. What better way to put this infectious mood on display just a few years after it was created than a summertime holiday? Thus the modern version of the Fourth was born.
Today, historically significant cities like Philadelphia and Boston are flooded with visitors who come to celebrate the quintessentially American holiday. Throughout the country celebrations take place in the form of concerts by country singers, fireworks displays with proud tags like, “The biggest fireworks show west of the Mississippi” (Lights on Tahoe South Fireworks) and “America’s Biggest Birthday Party” (Fair St. Louis). Other parts of the country celebrate with a horse of a different color: there’s an American Indian rodeo and three-day pow-wow in Flagstaff, Arizona; and in Lititz, Pennsylvania, there’s a candle festival.
Though a far cry from the celebrations of the late 1700s, America continues to celebrate its independence each year, just as John Adams hoped we would when he wrote, “[The Fourth of July] ought to be celebrated by pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other…” Founding Father knows best! Happy Fourth of July.