Fourth of July Memories

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!

How to Celebrate Independence Day, the John Adams Way

I have loved this quote from John Adams regarding Independence Day celebrations ever since I read it last year:

“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.”

Even though he said it over 200 years ago, it describes perfectly our Fourth of July celebrations today!

  • Pomp and Parade? Check! Between speeches and patriotic music, I think we’ve got pomp covered. And I do love a good Independence Day parade!
  • Shows, Games and Sports? Check! The shows might be a little different from what John Adams had envisioned, but who doesn’t love an opportunity to watch Yankee Doodle Dandy? Or The Patriot? Or 1776? Or Independence Day? And the Fourth of July is a great time for families, friends, and neighbors to get together and play all sorts of games, or to watch a sporting event on TV.
  • Guns? Check! Between cannon blasts, and fireworks, (which are really just colorful guns), this is probably the most anticipated event of any given Independence Day.
  • Bells? Check! If not church bells ringing, then bells in concerts all across the country. Big or small, bells are ringing all around America for the Fourth of July.
  • Bonfires and Illuminations? Check! There are those fireworks, again, and lights in general, as everyone stays up late to celebrate America’s birthday. Even backyard bonfires are not uncommon, as families huddle around them, and talk late into the night.
  • From one end of the continent to the other? Check! I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t love at least some aspect of the Fourth of July, whether it’s the fireworks or the time with family, the food or the parades. And it doesn’t matter if you live in a big city or small town, (or even on a farm in the middle of nowhere), east coast or west, north or south–Americans all over this country are celebrating today–celebrating our strength and our freedoms, celebrating all of the things that make this country great!