The Fourth of July has just passed, and I wonder how you celebrated this most American of holidays. I picture red and white checked tablecloths spread on a picnic table (this must be an image from childhood), a huge bowl of mom’s potato salad, barbecued burgers, baked beans, and homemade lemon meringue pie. Later, kids running around with sparklers while the adults ooh and ahh over a fireworks display. Interesting how those images remain for a lifetime, isn’t it?
This Fourth, I did a slightly different version of that childhood scene— toward the evening I settled in with my all-time favorite Fourth of July movie: 1776. This musical version of the Continental Congress’ debate over independence makes me feel as American as apple pie.
So what was cooking on your holiday platter? I’d love to know what traditions your family embraces, or if you create something new every year. Write and let me know. But first—a look at how our ancestors celebrated the holiday.
According to the Library of Congress, by the 1870s, the Fourth of July was the most important secular holiday on the calendar. In an American Life Histories: Manuscripts From the Federal Writers Project, 1936-1940 interview, Miss Nettie Spencer remembered the Fourth as the “big event of the year. Everyone in the countryside got together on that day for the only time in the year.”
Spencer said, “Just before lunch—and we’d always hold lunch up for an hour—some Senator or lawyer would speak. These speeches always had one pattern. First the speaker would challenge England to a fight and berate the King and say that he was a skunk. This was known as ‘twisting the lion’s tail.’ Then the next theme was that any one could find freedom and liberty on our shores. The speaker would invite those who were heavy-laden in other lands to come to us and find peace. The speeches were pretty fiery and by that time the men who drank got into fights and called each other Englishmen.”
• American Life Histories: Manuscripts From the Federal Writers Project, 1936-1940 (Search on Fourth of July for stories like Nettie Spencer’s)
• The Declaration of Independence (includes names of all the signers—were your ancestors among them?)
• Send a free Fourth of July virtual postcard
• Flag Etiquette
• Fourth of July Traditions