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The Birth of Independence: A History of July Fourth Celebrations

When America first began its battles against England in 1775, in an attempt for separation, colonists in favor of the break were met with a great deal of skepticism. Most Americans were not in favor of the revolution, not because they didn’t like the idea, but because they simply did not think the colonies were strong enough to fight the British.

However, by July of 1776, it was clear that America’s independence was imminent, and the Continental Congress met to ratify the nation’s first official Declaration of Independence on July 4th, cementing the date’s importance permanently. Though only two men signed the declaration on July 4th—Charles Thomson and John Hancock—the remainder of the delegates signed the declaration by August 2nd.

In the coming years, state leaders used July 4th as a way to unite the fledgling nation and provide a feeling of patriotism that was desperately needed. Most of these celebrations, however, consisted of speeches from legislators and town leaders instead of firecrackers and picnics.

The celebrations began to shift to more lively gatherings after the War of 1812, when the day was officially declared a national holiday. Independence Day during the nineteenth century became a more widely observed anniversary. Popular gatherings during these years included stops at local pubs and taverns, as well as public dinners for townspeople to come together for a large meal and discussion.

Modern Fourth of July get-togethers are mostly held in the backyard, where friends and family can join in games, barbecue, and, when it gets dark, fireworks. In fact, more than 45 percent of Americans now say that their Independence Day celebrations will include some kind of pyrotechnics—with some people spending more than $300 for the holiday on fireworks alone.

A typical twenty-first century Fourth of July party wouldn’t be complete without bar picnic food. On average, Americans spend nearly $400 per family on food for the fourth, and, as a whole, the country spends more than $3 million on items like hot dogs, hamburgers, and beverages.

Though our Independence Day celebrations have come a long way, the reason for celebrating has remained very much the same. As we put on our red, white, and blue each year, we’re reminded of the spirit that helped give rise to America more than two hundred years ago.

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