Independence Day, Then and Now: How to Party like it’s 1776
“I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival… It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.”
The following day, July 4th 1776, the Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence and, while it did not become a federal holiday until 1941, the 4th of July has been celebrated consistently for over two hundred years with “pomp and parade” that would do our second president proud. Looking to partake in the festivities? If you are not afraid of enthusiastic crowds and a little holiday traffic, there are quite a few large scale celebrations happening “from sea to shining sea.”
In 1776, the earliest celebrations took the form of public readings of the Declaration of Independence. The first took place on July 8th 1776 in Philadelphia and copies of the document were also sent on horseback to the remaining states, where public readings occurred in each as they were received. Many cities, including Philadelphia, will present reenactments of these public readings in homage. If you are in the Philadelphia area on July 8th, commemorate the anniversary and lend an ear alongside park rangers in period costumes who will be handing out free copies of the illustrious document.
History buffs will especially enjoy celebrating Independence Day in Philadelphia, the birthplace of the United States, where America’s forefathers originally put their John Hancock to the document, birthing the nation and the idiom. Philadelphia is also where the spirited celebration of the 4th of July began to resemble the festivities we know today. In 1777, the one year anniversary of the Declaration of Independence was marked with the first organized and extensively planned celebrations of the day, which included the first authorized fireworks display, setting the stage for future generations. 236 years later, fireworks will once again illuminate the sky during Philadelphia’s annual Wawa Welcome America Festival, which also includes concerts and a parade, as well as many other family friendly activities.
Also a popular choice for 4th of July revelry and, not-so-coincidentally, another hotbed of Revolutionary history, is Boston. The first town to designate the 4th of July a holiday in 1783, it remains one of the premier destinations for Independence Day celebration, so well known in fact that the website for the festivities is July4th.org. The annual fireworks display over the Charles River features a performance from the renowned Boston Pops Orchestra. Coinciding with the 4th of July events is OpSail, which will bring the Tall Ships back to Boston in celebration of the USS Constitution, which is berthed in Charlestown. Take a tour of the vessels and watch as the USS Constitution makes its annual turnaround from the Charlestown Navy Yard through Boston Harbor. While a much loved Boston institution, this is done for more than show. In order for the ship to maintain active in the US Navy, law requires the ship to travel one nautical mile per year. This annual tradition maintains Old Ironsides’ title as the oldest active warship in the Navy.
Those on the west coast, fear not, celebrations will be happening across the country. If you are in the vicinity, head to San Diego for a pyrotechnic display proclaimed “the greatest fireworks show in the west.” With five barge locations, the 12th annual “Big Bay Boom” will be bigger than ever. With 500,000 revelers in attendance last year, that is saying something.
Looking to celebrate down south? New Orleans has always known how to throw a party, and with 2012 commemorating the bicentennial of Louisiana’s statehood, the celebration will be doubly enthusiastic. NOLA’s festive “Go 4th on the River” celebration will feature a fireworks display from dueling barges over the Mississippi River. For the whole experience, watch from a riverboat such as the Creole Queen, which offers evening cruises that boast prime viewing locations for the fireworks show.
So next week, before you light the BBQ and crane your neck upwards at a beautiful pyrotechnic display, crack open a Sam Adams lager and toast to its namesake and the rest of our founding fathers. Happy 236th Birthday America!