'A great anniversary festival'
Independence Day — the Fourth of July — commemorates the United States’ adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, declaring independence from the Kingdom of Great Britain.
Today, Independence Day is commonly associated with fireworks, parades, barbecues, carnivals, fairs, picnics, concerts, baseball games, family reunions, ceremonies and political speeches. Events also celebrate the history, government and traditions of the United States.
The legal separation of the 13 colonies from Great Britain occurred on July 2, 1776, after the Second Continental Congress approved a resolution of independence proposed in June by Richard Henry Lee of Virginia. Congress then turned its attention to the Declaration of Independence, a statement explaining this decision, which had been prepared by a committee of five, with Thomas Jefferson as its principal author.
The Declaration finally was approved on July 4. A day earlier, John Adams had written to his wife, Abigail, that the event should be “celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival … 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.”
In a remarkable coincidence, both John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, the only signers of the Declaration of Independence later to serve as presidents of the United States, died on the same day: July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the Declaration. When President James Monroe died on July 4, 1831, he became the third president in a row who died on this memorable day.
In 1777, 13 gunshots were fired in salute, once at morning and once again as evening fell, on July 4 in Bristol, R.I. Philadelphia celebrated the first anniversary in a manner any modern American would find quite familiar: an official dinner for the Continental Congress, toasts, 13-gun salutes, speeches, prayers, music, parades, troop reviews and fireworks. Ships were decked with red, white and blue bunting.
First use of the name Independence Day came in 1791, and in 1870 it became an unpaid holiday for federal employees. In 1938, Congress made it a paid federal holiday.
Raucous gatherings, often incorporating bonfires, were a long tradition on the night before the Fourth of July. In New England, towns competed to build towering pyramids, assembled from hogsheads, barrels and casks lit at nightfall to usher in the celebration. The highest were in Salem, Mass., composed of as many as 40 tiers of barrels. That custom flourished in the 19th and 20th centuries and still is practiced in some New England towns.
Firework shows, public and private, became common in more recent years, although safety concerns led some states to ban fireworks or limit the sizes and types allowed. People living in those states still find and transfer fireworks from less restrictive states.
In 2009, New York City had the largest fireworks display in the country, with more than 22 tons of pyrotechnics exploded. The famous Macy’s fireworks display usually held over the East River in New York City has been televised nationwide on NBC since 1976. On the Capitol lawn in Washington, D.C., “A Capitol Fourth,” a free concert, precedes the fireworks and attracts more than half a million people annually.
Other countries also celebrate the day:
The Philippines celebrates July 4 as its Republic Day to commemorate the day in 1946 when it ceased to be a U.S. territory and the United States officially recognized Philippine independence. July 4 was intentionally chosen by the United States because it corresponds to its Independence Day, and this day was observed in the Philippines as Independence Day until 1962. In 1964, the Philippines changed the name of the holiday to Republic Day.
In Rwanda, July 4 is an official holiday known as Liberation Day, commemorating the end of the 1994 Rwandan Genocide in which the US government also played a role.
Denmark also celebrates American Independence on the 4th of July. National parks in Denmark are said to hold the largest 4 July celebrations outside of the U.S.
The first week of July is typically one of the busiest American travel periods of the year, as many people use the holiday for extended vacation trips.
Nearby fireworks displays
In Yamhill County, Willamina, July 4
St. Paul Rodeo, July 2-5
Independence, July 4-5
Molalla Buckaroo, July 2-5
Pacific City on the beach, July 3
Depoe Bay at Boiler Bay, July 3
Oregon Garden, Silverton, July 3
Salem-Keizer Volcanoes game, July 4
Lincoln City on Siletz Bay, July 4
Newport at Yaquina Bay, July 4