As we wind down our Fourth of July celebrations and close out this day, I’d like to share with you a piece I wrote for Beautiful Table Settings Magazine, an online publication for a private Facebook group. It was an honor to craft this piece and I enjoyed my walk down memory lane – as well as being reminded of how Independence Day is celebrated not only in our great nation, but around the world.
Celebrating the Red, White, and Blue: Fun Facts about Fourth of July Traditions in America and Around the World.
The Fourth of July, America’s birthday, is celebrated annually all over the United States. National Flags, cookouts, parades, and fireworks are just some key facets of these festivities.
As a nation, we have much to be grateful for. Yet it seems that all too often, people lose sight of what Independence Day truly commemorates and what our jubilant July Fourth festivities are intended to celebrate.
For some, July Fourth is the pivotal day that defines summer. The heat and humidity is usually ablaze, Smore’s toasting and bonfires roaring. The holiday is tied to childhood memories and family traditions, marked events, or rituals. It is filled with carefree joy and laughter.
For others, July Fourth is a day that embodies patriotism and national pride. It is sacred and celebratory because of what it stands for – the birth of American Independence, a freedom that was hard won. The Declaration of Independence was adopted, and America was separated from Great Britain. For the first time in world history, a new nation was born based on the First Principles of the rule of law, unalienable rights, limited government, the Social Compact, equality, and the right to amend or abolish oppressive government.1
As a Boston native, July Fourth historically found me downtown where streets were once filled with visiting military personnel and the colors of red, white, and blue dressed the city. Walking along any given street, one would hear the beat of a drum, the melody of a flute or see Sam Adams or Ben Franklin dressed in character, orating one – or all – of the five parts from the Declaration of Independence.2 Military visitors were required to wear their dress uniforms, in honor of U.S. independence and the country they signed-up to defend, and wear it proudly.
Harborfest, Chowderfest and of course, our acclaimed Boston Pops performing at the Hatch Shell on the Esplanade where they’re famous for unfurling the American flag as The Star Spangled Banner enters its final moments. The military fly-over, launch of the canons, and an array of diverse individuals from all walks of life created an atmosphere that cannot be described in words – for words could do it no justice, or properly paint the picture of what it was like to experience July Fourth in Beantown.
And fireworks – oh, the fireworks that are synonymous with July Fourth celebrations in almost every city and town around our great nation. The anticipation that builds when the 1812 Overture is performed, a perfect orchestration of musical instruments that culminates in the crackling explosions of red, white, and blue that lights up the night sky. I’ve often wondered how many people are familiar with that great piece of work from start to finish – or if they’re only keen to the final notes when the fireworks are set off, as was I for so many years? It is such an exquisite masterpiece, the melodious notes ranging from somber and serene, to powerful and explosive. I can listen to it for hours. It’s a piece that holds a very special place in my heart.
Our Boston Symphony Orchestra’s own conductor, the late Arthur Fiedler, is responsible for bringing the 1812 Overture to our July Fourth celebrations. In 1974, two years prior to our country’s bicentennial celebration, he was the trendsetter who sparked this tradition which we all enjoy. They say imitation is the highest form of flattery, thus was the case. Conductors around our nation took note and included the piece in national bicentennial celebrations in 1976 – and every year to follow.3
Here are Some Other Fun Facts about Fourth of July Traditions.3,4,5,6,7,8,9
- The 1812 Overture, the musical score played at national Fourth of July celebrations, was written by Tchaikovsky about the Russian victory over the French.
- Tchaikovsky wrote the 1812 Overture in six weeks, but he did not like it. He felt it to be very loud and noisy.
- In New England, a tradition of eating turtle soup partnered with poached salmon, peas and new potatoes emerged in the late 1700s.
- Thomas Jefferson declared that the only birthday he would commemorate was that of America’s Independence. He was the first President to host Fourth of July celebrations in the Executive Mansion.
- The Fourth of July became a federal holiday in 1941.
- The first annual commemoration of independence took place in Philadelphia on July 4, 1777.
- Massachusetts was the first state to make July Fourth an official state holiday in 1781.
- In 2020, 68% of Americans grilled and barbecued on the July Fourth holiday.
- Apple pie was the result of Pilgrims distancing themselves from British culture in their quest for independence. In the 1700s, the Dutch immigrants introduced to them to a new delight, teaching them to make a flaky, buttery crust which they then filled with apples. This was the birth of our iconic American dessert.
- The “You’re American as apple pie!” phrase was first used in the 1800s, but didn’t become popular until World War II. Soldiers gave two reasons for enlisting in the armed forces: Mom and apple pie.
- S. Embassy celebrations are often the biggest holiday of the year, not only to make American citizens feel at home, but to provide an international experience to the host country and impel cultural socialization.
- In Estonia, they barbecue, eat cabbage and drink a lot of beer. In London, Ottawa, Berlin and Nigeria, there are numerous garden parties.
- Norway is known to celebrate the biggest Fourth of July event in Europe to commemorate American independence.
- The American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai hosts a big party in the world’s biggest city which is known to be filled with U.S. expats.
- Philippine Republic Day, also known as Philippine-American Friendship Day, is celebrated on July Fourth to commemorate their independence which happens to fall on America’s birthday. On July 4, 1946, they broke away from a colonizing nation.
This year, as you celebrate, may I invite you to reflect upon the history and meaning behind this holiday. Listen closely to the 1812 Overture while you gaze up at the fireworks display dancing across the night sky and be reminded that Independence Day is much more than cookouts and fireworks, backyard games or beach time. This patriotic day commemorates our freedom, celebrates our liberties, and pays homage to the traditions that commenced on July 4, 1776 – the birth of our American independence. May we all pay tribute to the men and women, past and present, who have fought hard, worked tirelessly, and sacrificed much to afford us the gift of celebrating July Fourth.
Happy Birthday America, land of the free, home of the brave!