July 4th was almost a July 2nd – the 2nd was the day that Congress voted to approve a resolution of independence. However it took another two days for the final wording in the Declaration of Independence to be finalised and signed, hence the Fourth of July. So happy 2nd of July! This week we’ve got a perspective on the 4th of July from one of our British colleagues here at the Memorial Library as well as a little reminiscing about celebrations in the US from one of our American Scholars.
The 4th of July, from (old) England
This week will mark the 4th of July, the day where Americans celebrate their independence from the British. As a British person, I’m not sure what to think about this. I remember having an extremely awkward moment ten years ago while on holiday in the US at this time of year. After an impressive fireworks display, the audience was asked to stand for the national anthem and for a brief moment I was caught in a quandary. Do I stand up and show reverence for what was after all the theft of the rightful property of United Kingdom? Or stay seated out of solidarity to King George? Since I’m not much of a monarchist or the type to hold grudges for longer than a hundred years or so, I decided to do the polite thing and stand for the duration and hope that the locals couldn’t smell the tea and taxation with representation on me.
I feel like I was underprepared for the experience. The Revolutionary War is not something I was taught about in school. The closest we ever got to it was a brief mention of Thomas Paine, one of the Founding Fathers and a local boy from Thetford. So it’s with considerable ignorance that I discuss with my American colleagues at the Memorial Library the subject of the founding of the United States.
Fortunately for all concerned, here at the Memorial Library we have a whole shelf of books about that exact subject. As I have some catching up to do, I think I will start with The American Revolution for Kids: A History with 21 Activities. And after that, I can get to grips with a part of history sadly under represented on this side of the Atlantic.
The 4th of July from New England
The 4th of July in Boston – synonymous with hot dogs, burgers and sweet corn on the barbecue, mounds of potato salad, beans, ice cream, strawberries and watermelon juice dripping down your chin. And that is just during the day! Most towns – small or large – will do their best to put together a fireworks show. Residents will start to gather as the sun sets, laying out blankets and vying for the best spot to see the show. None can rival that of Boston; it is a spectacular firework display synced with the Boston Pops playing at the Hatch Shell – an outdoor amphitheater on the banks of the Charles River. The finale is always the best part – Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture accompanied by real cannon fire!
Boston and the nearby area hosted some of the Revolutionary War’s major events – the Boston Massacre, Paul Revere’s midnight ride, the Battles of Lexington and Concord, the Battle of Bunker Hill, and of course, the Boston Tea Party. Boston’s rich history and role in the Revolutionary War is one part of what is celebrated this weekend, but it is also about community and getting together with friends and family. Small towns will host parades and fairs, and family reunions are common. The emphasis may be on one period in US history, but feels less about a revolution that overthrew a colonial power and more about the creation of an identity and community that today is represented by a weekend filled with events that always feel like home for me: a day where everyone brings something edible (and usually a lot of it) along to share, spends the day eating, laughing, chasing children to apply more sunscreen, swatting mosquitoes and wrapping it all up by laying on the grass and watching some spectacular fireworks.
A few more interesting reads about the American Revolution