Celebrating the 4th of July

Although it feels like it was just New Year’s Eve last week, it’s actually almost time for the 4th of July once again. That also means that 4th of July party planning is now in full swing. For some people, throwing a 4th of July party can be as simple as putting some burgers and hot dogs on the grill and passing out canned soft drinks to be consumed pool-side in the backyard. But those who like to do things a little more elaborately are probably already looking for printable 4th of July invitations they can download from the Web, finding just the right fireworks collections (presuming they’re legal where they live) and even hiring caterers to make sure the food is memorable.

But there’s obviously more to the holiday than just sending out 4th of July invitations to your friends, eating great food and setting things on fire. July 4th is called Independence Day, because it marks the date in 1776 when the United States officially declared its independence from Great Britain by adopting that famous document, the Declaration of Independence. Most people think the declaration was actually signed on July 4th, 1776, but that’s not true. It wasn’t signed until August 2nd of that year. But Congress approved the declaration on July 4th, so that date was chosen to be the federal holiday we now celebrate.

Unsettled WindThe first anniversary of the 4th of July in 1777 was celebrated with 13-gun salutes in Bristol, Rhode Island and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, along with speeches, prayers and parades. On the second anniversary, George Washington ordered a double ration of rum for all his men. If you worked for the government but weren’t one of Washington’s soldiers, you were out of luck when it came to celebrating until 1870, when the day was made a holiday for federal employees. Unfortunately for the employees at that time, that day off was unpaid. But that was rectified in 1938, when Congress declared it a paid holiday.

Nowadays, celebrating the 4th of July is a rich part of the fabric of American life. It’s a day when children run through the grass with sparklers,  BBQ smoke fills the air and fireworks paint the evening sky. But you don’t even have to attend a party to feel like you’re a part of the celebration. All you have to do is stop for just a moment to think about how fortunate we Americans are; that alone should help you capture the spirit of the 4th of July.