Well, that went fast. Here we are with summertime and the Fourth of July upon us, and all of the accompanying pomp and jollity.
Why do Americans set off fireworks, fire up the grills, and dress in red, white and blue to attend parades on the 4th of July? And why, if we separated from Great Britain on July 2, do we celebrate on the fourth day of the month?
True, the Continental Congress officially declared the colonies separate and independent from Great Britain on July 2, 1776. But it wasn’t until July 4th that the group gathered in Philadelphia ratified the Declaration of Independence, authored by the young representative from Virginia by the name of Thomas Jefferson. The signing, so the history goes, happened on the fourth.
The treasonous new document was then copied and disseminated throughout the colonies, where proud Americans greeted its reading in town centers and village squares with cheers and celebrations. Remember that this was a time when news was spread on foot and horseback — some Americans didn’t learn of the document and its significance for their homeland until the middle of July!
So where do the fireworks come from? John Adams, in a letter to his wife Abigail, predicted that Independence Day would be celebrated from that day forward on July 2nd. He wrote that the day “will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.”
Adams was correct about the traditions that would be passed down, even if he was off by two days.
The creation of the American flag is a topic debated by historians, but popular legend credits a seamstress, Betsy Ross, with sewing the first flag. Ross was, so the history goes, visited by several men from the Continental Congress in June of 1776. During this visit to her shop the men, including the Commander Colonel George Washington, told Ross of the need for a symbol for the new nation and asked her if she would be willing to create one. Ross accepted the challenge, stitching the circle of thirteen white stars and thirteen red and white stripes to symbolize the thirteen original colonies.
Why the colors red, white and blue? Historians aren’t entirely in agreement. Some assert that these colors were adapted because they were close to the colors used in the Washington family crest. Others believe that, more likely, these colors were used because of their presence in the British flag, the Union Jack.
For more information on Fourth of July traditions, click here.