Monday, July 6, 2009

Reflections on the Fourth


Over this past weekend our country celebrated it's 233rd birthday. We the people of the United States of America celebrated in a variety of ways. Many flocked to the beaches along our coastlines. Even more celebrated with family or community barbecue cookouts during the day, followed by fireworks displays at night. Our family was no different.

No matter how we celebrated the day, the vast majority of Americans did indeed celebrate in some way. The reasons that we celebrated were many. Some would say that for many, like Christmas, the true meaning of Independence Day has become lost on most people. I don't believe that is so.

As most Americans know and celebrate, Independence Day (or the 'Fourth of July') celebrates that date that the young American colonies declared their independence from the British crown back in 1776. Thus the massive display of the American flag, and of people incorporating the American colors of red, white, and blue into their wardrobes this weekend.

John Adams himself declared: "The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it 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."

He was off by two days in that letter, written to his wife on July 3rd, 1776, the reason being that Congress debated and revised the original Declaration of Independence after approving it a day earlier. The final version famously lists the July 4th ratification date. The actual signing of the Declaration, famously highlighted by John Hancock's gorgeous signature, happened on August 2nd, 1776.


Amazingly, both Adams and Thomas Jefferson, two of America's most celebrated Founding Fathers, two of the first men to lead our nation as President, and two signers of the Declaration, both died on the 4th of July, 1826 within hours of one another on the fiftieth anniversary of that great event. Five years later, President James Monroe also died on July 4th, though he was not a signer of the Declaration.

In 1777, Philadelphia celebrated the first anniversary in ways that a modern American would be familiar with, including an official dinner for the Continental Congress, toasts, speeches, prayers, music, parades, troop reviews, and fireworks. Ships on the Delaware River were decked with red, white, and blue bunting to mark the occasion.

In 1781, Massachusetts became the first state to adopt July 4th as a state holiday. In 1785, Bristol, Rhode Island, held the first-ever parade in honor of the date, and has held one continuously on that date ever since. In 1791, the first recorded use of the term 'Independence Day' happened. In 1870, Congress made the date an unpaid holiday for federal employees, then changed that to a paid holiday in 1938. Many American businesses have followed suit.

My own family had a very nice Independence Day weekend. We began our celebrations with my oldest daughter, Christine, and grandkids Elysia and Reznor staying at our home on both Friday and Saturday nights. On Saturday, I spent the day in our pool with my granddaughter, then fired up the grill for a cookout as younger daughter Kelly and her boyfriend Jay joined the festivities. At night we lit sparklers in our backyard, and got to enjoy a tremendous neighborhood fireworks display put on by one of our neighbors. I even got to enjoy the New York and Philly fireworks displays on television.

On Sunday, my wife Debbie and I packed up Chrissy, Elysia and Rez, and headed over to Williamstown, New Jersey for a cookout and pool party with some of Deb's family in honor of her father's 84th birthday. While there we had the great fortune to watch as the Phillies defeated the Mets to sweep a holiday weekend series, setting up the finale of our own celebration. Deb and I will be heading down to Citizens Bank Park tonight to watch the Phils take on the Cincinnati Reds.

Our family celebrates Independence Day the way that the vast majority of normal Americans do: family gatherings, cookouts, swimming, baseball, fireworks and all with the flag proudly displayed and the red, white, and blue clothing worn. On this date in particular, we all pause to reflect on the braveness of our forefathers, the greatness of our nation, and the unity of purpose with which we must all move forward together to keep our country free. May God continue to bless the United States of America.

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