The Fourth of July is one of my favorite holidays every year, and I think it’s because of where I grew up–Wheaton, Illinois. I truly believe that town has the finest Fourth of July celebration outside of the east coast. As a child, there was always something to look forward to on the Fourth, in addition to the standard BBQs/picnics/family events.
First, is the Wheaton Municipal Band’s patriotic concert. This occurs on the Thursday before the Fourth, (my favorite years were when that Thursday happened to fall on the third of July, kind of an Independence Day Eve celebration), and features all kinds of patriotic and American music, including my personal favorite, “Stars and Stripes Forever.” They are a truly talented group of musicians, and the Wheaton concert always helped me feel better about not getting to attend the Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular.
Then there’s the Fourth of July parade. It was once billed as the biggest Fourth of July parade in the state. I don’t know if that’s still true, but I do know I have many fond memories of the parade from my childhood. Bands, floats, horses, dozens of flags…even the shopping carts that are so common in parades…it was all there. Dignitaries, too. It wasn’t uncommon for the governor to march in the Wheaton, (and the later-in-the-day Glen Ellyn), parade. One year, he even stopped in at the Hallmark store I worked at to pick up a thank-you card–how cool is that! (This was before the troubled state of the Governor’s office in Illinois.)
And, of course, it wouldn’t be the Fourth without fireworks. Wheaton also has an excellent fireworks display, held at the county fairgrounds. Once I was old enough to drive, we often would park in the Target parking lot near the fairgrounds, and watch from there. It wasn’t unusual for the spectacle to last for 45 minutes, and every time you thought that certainly the finale had come, there would be another grand display. It was pretty impressive for a town of 50,000!
You can see how I grew up loving the Fourth of July. And even though our celebrations are a little different, living in a different place, it’s still a huge deal to me, celebrating our great country’s birthday!