I’m in the Texas Hill Country now; Gillespie County (Fredericksburg). This week they went to stage 3 water restrictions, which is something they have never done before. It has been dry here. The paper says that it has been dry for 11 years now, and this is one of the driest years on record. With all the water restrictions and burn bans in place, there are not many fireworks shows happening. I heard that the fireworks in Kerrville (on the river) will still happen, but all the shows here have been canceled. I’ve heard a lot of people talking about how it just isn’t the 4th of July without fireworks.
So, I started thinking about that. What is the 4th of July really about? I went to History.com to find some information (July 4th). Well, the formal name of the holiday is Independence Day, and it commemorates the adoption of the Declaration of Independence (the actual vote for independence happened on July 2nd, but we celebrate the adoption of the declaration). The date was celebrated every year after 1776, with Massachusetts becoming the first state to declare it a holiday (in 1781). The celebrations continued after the Revolutionary War, with the focus being on creating a feeling of unity between the politicians of the day.
However, by the end of the 18th Century, each party began having their own, separate celebrations. After the War of 1812, the celebrations became even more widespread and patriotic and in 1870 Congress made July 4th a National Holiday (in 1941 it became a paid holiday for federal workers). The political significance of Independence Day declined over the years, but it remained a symbol of patriotism.
It was in the late 19th Century that the holiday began to focus on leisure activities and family get-togethers that included cookouts and fireworks. So, it seems that from the late 18th Century to the late 19th Century the focus moved from politically focused with a theme of unity for the nation, to family get-togethers with fireworks displays and cookouts. The theme has remained patriotic with the American flag being the most common symbol for the holiday and the Star Spangled Banner the most commonly heard song (of course, America the Beautiful is right up there; along with God Bless the USA).
As I read this history I could not help but think that with what is happening in our country today, it might be refreshing if the focus of Independence Day was moved away from fireworks and back towards that promotion of unity—a time where the political parties were focused more on building a great nation and less on “winning” each debate no matter how it might negatively affect the nation.
Maybe this is why camping is so popular on the 4th of July; sure, it has a lot to do with it being summertime and the kids being out of school, but also it seems there might be something to do with unity. In the campgrounds there is a common thread that unites us all. Sure, over the last few years I’ve seen some political posters showing up in the campgrounds, and some people want to bring divisive politics into the arena; however, most people in the campgrounds ignore these few extremists, and continue to interact and share each other’s company without regard to political affiliation (when is the last time you asked a fellow camper what party they belong to?).
So, I hope everyone enjoys their celebration of Independence Day. I know the campground where I’m at has a lot more people here than last week, even though there are no fireworks. The cookouts continue and the parades go on; families get together and enjoy some leisure time; bands play and people engage in games; everyone has a good time (even with no fireworks). However, it would be nice if we all spent a little time remembering that our nation was formed by people from different political and religious views coming together with the common purpose of creating a nation that was better than what they currently had. This focus on creating a better way of life for everyone is why the Founding Fathers declared our independence, and should be what guides us today. They found common ground 235 years ago; I believe that there is still common ground to be found today. If you doubt that it exists, just visit your closest campground and you will see it in action (you don’t even have to wait for a holiday). Woodall’s has some resources to help you find one (Camping America).
Happy Independence Day!