Fourth of July: Flags fly high as Americans celebrate Independence Day

Street view of town before parade

Street view on July 4th in Bristol, Rhode Island. The Bristol parade is part of the oldest Fourth of July celebration in the United States of America. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

WEDNESDAY, JULY 4: Three cheers for the red, white and blue! And, this year, a record-setting number of Americans are expected to hit the road for the holiday, according to a widely reported survey of drivers by AAA. The report says: “A record-breaking 46.9 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more away from home this Independence Day holiday, an increase of more than 5 percent compared with last year and the highest number since AAA started tracking 18 years ago.”

We all know the holiday scenes! Crowds line the streets for parades, the scent of barbecue draws family and friends and, finally, fireworks light up the night sky on the Fourth of July, the National Day of the United States of America.

Though the legal separation of the Thirteen Colonies from Great Britain took place on July 2, 1776, it was two days later—July 4—when the Second Continental Congress gave its approval.

With the fledgling battles of the Revolutionary War in April 1775, few colonists considered complete independence from Great Britain. Within a year, however, hostilities toward Great Britain were building and the desire for independence was growing, too. Thomas Paine’s 1776 pamphlet, “Common Sense,” fueled the unifying aspiration for independence.

A COMMITTEE OF FIVE AND A DECLARATION DRAFT

“Writing the Declaration of Independence, 1776,” oil on canvas by Jean Leon Gerome

The year was 1776, and the weather was stifling hot as a brand-new nation was being formed. In June of that year, the Continental Congress appointed a five-person committee to draft a formal statement that would vindicate the break with Great Britain: Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Roger Sherman and Robert R. Livingston. Jefferson, considered the most articulate writer in the group, crafted the original draft. On July 2, 1776, the Continental Congress officially declared independence from the Kingdom of Great Britain; a total of 86 changes were made to the draft before its final adoption on July 4, by the Second Continental Congress.

Did you know? Although some early leaders (including John Adams) assumed that July 2 would be the day henceforth celebrated as America’s “anniversary festival,” they were off by two days: July 4 was the day that the Declaration’s final wording was approved.

One year following, in 1777, Philadelphia marked the Fourth of July with an official dinner, toasts, 13-gun salutes, music, parades, prayers and speeches. As the new nation faced challenges, however, celebrations fell out of favor during ensuing decades. It wasn’t until after the War of 1812 that printed copies of the Declaration of Independence again were widely circulated, and festivities marked America’s Independence Day.

Fast fact: Congress declared July 4 a national holiday in 1870.

A CAPITOL FOURTH & AMERICAN SONGS

A salute of one gun for each U.S. states is fired on July 4 at noon by any capable military base, and in the evening, A Capitol Fourth—a free concert broadcast live by PBS, NPR and the American Forces Network—takes place on the Capitol lawn in Washington, D.C.

This year, John Stamos is set to host the event that will feature an array of musical artists (including The Beach Boys, Jimmy Buffett, Renee Fleming, The Temptations, Pentatonix and Andy Grammer), along with the National Symphony Orchestra.

JULY 4 RECIPES, PARTY TIPS, DIY & MOVIES

Blueberry and strawberry pops on plate

Photo courtesy of Max Pixel

Get out those red, white and blue decorations and recipes, and invite neighbors and friends over for a birthday bash for the nation!

From the perfect grilled steak to a fresh-fruit patriotic cake, find recipes from Martha Stewart, AllRecipes, Food Network, Food & Wine, Taste of Home, Rachael Ray and Real Simple.

For party and decor tips, check out HGTV’s easy entertaining ideas, Americana style suggestions and backyard party tips. Reader’s Digest offers 21 fun party games fit for any celebration of the Fourth.

Kids can craft decorations or their own apparel with help from Parents.com and Disney.com.

Interested in a lineup of patriotic movies? Forbes and Boston.com offer a top-10 list of movies, including “Red Dawn,” “Johnny Tremain,” “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “1776.”

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