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Why Do We Celebrate the 4th of July?

Fireworks, barbecues, and parades are just a few of the traditional 4th of July events most people think of when they are asked, “What is the 4th of July?” But do you know why we celebrate the 4th of July? From the first celebration of the new nation’s freedom to how we celebrate the 4th of July today, there is a lot to cover. 

What Is the 4th of July? 

The 4th of July, also known as Independence Day, celebrates the passage of the Declaration of Independence. The American colonies wanted their freedom from Great Britain, and on 2 July 1776, the Continental Congress voted for that independence. The vote passed; however, it wasn’t until two days later, on the 4th of July, that the Declaration of Independence was revised and signed. 

The signing of the Declaration of Independence marks the beginning of America's independence on July 4th, 1776.

What Did the First 4th of July Celebration Look Like? 

Before the American Revolution, colonists held birthday celebrations for the king of England, which included bonfires, parades, speeches, and the ringing of bells. However, during the summer of 1776, many towns celebrated their new independence by creating a type of mock funeral for the king. His death symbolized the end of a monarchy and the beginning of democracy in the new nation. 

Where Do 4th of July Traditions Come From? 

The first annual celebration for July 4th  was held in Philadelphia in 1777. Towns across the country celebrated in their own ways, but most celebrations included bonfires, parades, canon or musket fire, and lots of public speeches.  

The tradition of fireworks on the 4th of July came from the first 4th of July celebration in 1777.

The tradition of fireworks on the 4th of July came from the 1777 celebration in Philadelphia. A ship fired a 13-gun salute to honor the 13 colonies, and the Sons of Liberty set off fireworks over Boston Common

Though many cities celebrated Independence Day at the time, Massachusetts was the first state to actually designate the 4th of July as a holiday, which happened in 1781. In 1870, the United States Congress made the 4th of July a federal holiday. 

How Is the 4th of July Celebrated Today? 

Many 4th of July traditions today came from those first celebrations in 1777. Early 4th of July traditions included public gatherings where participants celebrated their hard-fought independence by ringing bells in revelry, building bonfires, lighting fireworks, and firing canons. It was a time to remind people of their rights and freedoms. It was also used as a time to encourage support for either the Federalist or Democratic-Republican Party.

The traditional 4th of July celebration might also include a band, town festival, and a barbecue. Barbecues often included the whole town or a more intimate group of friends and family. If you attended a barbecue back then, you might have been served an ox roast or barbecued beef or lamb. 

Americans celebrate the 4th of July with a barbecue.

Today, the popular 4th of July barbecue menu includes the following, and more: 

  • Hot dogs 
  • Hamburgers 
  • Beans 
  • Chips 
  • Salads
  • Desserts
  • Corn on the cob
  • Watermelon
  • Cut vegetables
  • Lemonade
  • Ice cream or popsicles

Fireworks are another favorite 4th of July tradition. Some states allow the use of fireworks privately; however, many do not for safety reasons. Instead, families across the United States gather up lawn chairs, blankets, and perhaps mosquito repellent and head to a local park for a fireworks show, which can sound reminiscent of the canon fire from the early celebrations in the late 1700s! 

Do you have ancestors who celebrated America’s independence in the 1700s? Take a look at your family tree to see if your ancestors lived in the new republic in the late 1700s. 

Source: Family Search

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