The Fourth of July has all Americans catching a case of patriotic fever, and it’s definitely contagious. Independence Day brings with it a rich history of American culture, and big Independence Day celebrations throughout the country display this history and culture in all its splendor.
The Beginning of Independence Day Celebrations
John Adams wrote to his wife, Abigail:
The second day of July 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. …. 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.
Despite being two days early on the date, Adams was correct about the celebrations.
Congress voted for complete independence on the second of July that year. However, it was only two days later on the fourth of the month that the Declaration of Independence was drafted, and the official holiday was celebrated.
Fireworks so inherently associated with the Fourth of July were initially a way of informing others that independence had been declared. Celebrations in one form or another began almost immediately. However, it was not until 1870 that the Fourth of July became a federal holiday.
Red, White and Blue All Over
No matter whether you’re having a quiet barbecue with family, planning to visit a historical landmark or participating in one of the iconic celebrations available, there’s no doubt you’ll want to be celebrating in red, white and blue. It’s hard to resist putting up some patriotic decorations, dressing in national colors or waving a few mini flags.
Customs for Independence
It’s important to remember what independence means, and at the heart of the fireworks and parade is the celebration of gaining independence. The events signify national pride traditionally by hosting a range of patriotic songs, tributes to historical events, appearances by military and national groups, and political speakers.
Annual Celebrations of Iconic Status
Many towns and cities have created their own traditions around the national holiday. Combined with fireworks and parade, each has its own special flavor to amplify the events.
The Oldest Fourth of July Celebration
In 2018, the Independence Day celebration in Bristol, R.I., will be in its 233rd consecutive year. The recognition of the Fourth of July in Bristol actually began one year after independence in 1777 with a 13-gun salute, parades, speeches and prayers. At that time, the war for independence was still in full swing. In 1785, eight years after the first event and two years after the civil war ended, Bristol’s official Fourth of July Parade began, and the event has been held every year since.
Not only is the Bristol celebration the oldest, but it is also one of the longest. Leading up to the parade and celebrations in Bristol are three weeks of events centered around the independence celebrations. Beginning on Flag Day, the events include many cultural evenings, concert series, pageants and a not-to-be-missed Fourth of July Ball.
Best Fireworks Celebrations
It’s no surprise that New York City prides itself in the nation’s largest fireworks celebrations for the Fourth of July. This is truly an extravaganza of iconic proportions, and the estimated value of the fireworks alone is around $6 million. The annual event has been continuously sponsored by Macy’s since 1976; however, earlier celebrations hosted by Macy’s date back to 1958. The event has been broadcasted live continuously on NBC since 1977. Originally held over the Hudson River, the location has been moved several times, but it is most commonly held over the East River.
Fireworks start at around 9;30 p.m., and streets such as FDR Drive are closed off to provide official viewing locations. For a more upmarket view, a variety of dinner cruises or rooftop viewing is offered. The spectacular fireworks are choreographed to live patriotic music featuring the approximately 150 musicians ranging from the West Point Glee Club to the most popular pop stars. Macy’s proudly boasts that the planning takes them all year long for 25 minutes of patriotic fanfare, offering something different each year.
Biggest Independence Day Parade
The nation’s capital claims to host the biggest Independence Day parade, held on the historic Constitution Avenue between Seventh to 17th streets. With the Washington Monument as a backdrop, there is nowhere that feels more patriotic on the Fourth of July.
The Washington Independence Day Parade lasts just over two hours, running from 11:45 a.m. until 2 p.m., and is packed with entertainment aimed at drawing the audience’s attention to the real meaning of independence. The parade includes a variety of bands, from marching bands to brass bands to military bands, patriotic floats, balloons, military teams, VIPs and a host of other attractions from across the nation.
In the evening, parade participants attend a free concert, “A Capitol Fourth,” that features the National Symphony Orchestra, and it is broadcast nationally by PBS from the Capitol Building. Following the concert, no Fourth of July celebration would be complete without a grand fireworks display to finish off the day’s events.
Presented by the National Park Service, the parade aims to be truly national by inviting representatives from all parts of the United States.
It’s estimated the Washington parade and concert has the largest audience in the country, attracting an estimated 500,000 viewers, plus millions on the live televised broadcast.
Largest Outdoor Musical Spectacular
Home of the Boston Pops Symphony Orchestra, Boston lays claim to one of the largest free outdoor musical events held for the Independence Day celebrations. The event, titled the Boston Pops Fireworks Extravaganza, has been hosted in Beantown since 1973. The event is held over two days, on the third of July from 8:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. and on the Fourth of July from 8:00 p.m. to 10:30 p.m., with fireworks only on the fourth from 10:30 p.m. to 11:00 p.m.
The 2018 event pays tribute to Leonard Bernstein on the centennial of his birth and consists of a star-studded line-up of entertainment. The Boston Pops accompany chart-topping Rachel Platen, with Grammy-winning country blues star Rhiannon Giddens, American folk duo Indigo Girls, and legendary dancer Rita Moreno among the 2018 stars.
The concert is held at the Boston Edward A. Hatch Memorial Shell (a.k.a. “Hatch Shell”) venue on the Charles River Esplanade. The famous venue is an open grass pavilion with a huge amphitheater, originally created for the Boston Pops Orchestra.
Massachusetts was also the first state to declare the Fourth of July a holiday, shortly after the end of the civil war.
Philadelphia has one of the most historic celebrations of the nation, and that’ no surprise given its status as the birthplace of our great nation. The Independence Day celebration is typically spread over the week and promises events like free admission at a range of cultural museums. Last year, 11 museums participated in offering free passes.
Street parties include the historic district block party, German district celebrations, Party on Parkway, and many other free events and free food offerings. The Celebration of Freedom ceremony held on the morning of Independence Day includes a traditional reading of the Declaration of Independence, followed by music and speeches. The Wawa (Welcome America) festival hosts a weeklong schedule of celebratory events and concerts, concluding, of course, with a huge Independence Day parade and a main concert with star-studded line-ups and outstanding fireworks.
Biggest Birthday Party
The people of St Louis like to celebrate in style, and Independence Day is no exception. The three-day event promises a host of events and fun that showcases the best of St Louis. Called Fair Saint Louis and tagged as America’s Biggest Birthday Party, the event is wall-to-wall entertainment. Alongside the fireworks, each night showcases star-studded live entertainment, excellent local food and a host of activities.
Big Bay Boom
San Diego is apparently all out to compete with New York for the title of best fireworks with their event titled the Big Bay Boom. Touted as California’s largest fireworks display, they launch four barges in four different locations on the bay to create a fireworks extravaganza. The musical accompaniment by the San Diego Symphony Pops provides synchronized patriotic tunes, and it is broadcast live for all to hear.
Along with a variety of harbor cruises available, the San Diego Maritime Museum offers a selection of dinner cruises, and the San Diego Midway Aircraft Museum hosts a family picnic-style event for families to make the most of the spectacle.
Pool Parties and Lights
Las Vegas is iconic at any time, and the Fourth of July is no exception. The events in Las Vegas predictably are coordinated by the city’s casinos and hotels, with each competing to host the biggest and best parties for the holiday week. Caesars Palace hosts one of the biggest displays of fireworks, scheduled for Saturday June 30. With the Fourth of July midweek in 2018, parties and specials are scheduled to begin the Friday before and last until after the holiday.
Along with fireworks, Fourth of July pool parties are huge in Las Vegas, and most are scheduled for the final day of June. On July 4, 2018, country rock legend Billy Ray Cyrus will perform free in downtown Las Vegas as part of the summer Downtown Rocks series at the Fremont Street Experience.
Music City Celebrations
Another event that promises a spectacular lineup for music lovers is the Music City Fourth of July Celebration in Nashville, Tenn. This amazing free music event includes a stunning firework display and fun for all the family. The lineup of entertainers for 2018 features country music’s biggest stars, with Lady Antebellum, Chris Janson, Lucie Silvas, Shannon Sanders and the Nashville Symphony Orchestra. Good fun is promised for all, with McDonald’s, Dr. Pepper, Budweiser and, of course, Jack Daniels as sponsors, as well as climbing walls, water slides and local celebrities.
Small Town Events
Small-town events for Fourth of July are none the less iconic and promise some wholesome country fun and festivities.
America’s Official Fourth of July Small Town
Seward, Neb., was officially designated as America’s Fourth of July Small Town by a resolution of Congress in 1979. This town of only around 6,000 inhabitants increases its population by six-fold during its iconic Independence Day Celebrations, amassing crowds of around 40,000 revelers.
The celebrations are a whole-community event, providing old-fashioned family-day fun. A unique aspect of the small-town event is the participation of local high school students.
The day includes a dedication at the National Guard museum starting at 9:00 am, a car show, craft show and the traditional Independence Day Parade at 4 p.m. Throughout the day, live entertainment and music are scheduled at the Seward half-shell stage.
Fun entertainment listed on the Seward Fourth of July official website includes a pole vault competition, aerobatics and parachuting, anvil firing and an American apple pie eating contest, among many other events.
Addison, Texas, is a small town that hosts a huge fireworks display. The event is called Kaboom Town!, and the fireworks are reported to be one of the country’s top 10 events, which is amazing for the size of the town. Alongside fireworks are a carnival, a huge number of food venues, activities for kids and live music. The event is free and hosted by the town council, but activities and food are paid for separately.
Following tradition, bonfires and fireworks are lit as the lead-up to the holiday, but the fireworks are actually held on July 3. The event begins at 4:00 p.m. on the third, with fireworks scheduled around 9:30 p.m. Included in the day’s events is an airshow, which will dazzle the whole family.
Lights on the Lake
Tahoe South’s Lights on the Lake is one of the most serene spots to view one of the nation’s top fireworks display. The lake shores offer several scenic spots to view the fireworks in beautiful natural settings.
Choosing an Independence Day Celebration
With this national holiday, why not create a Fourth of July wish list, and try to check off your favorite iconic celebrations. Although visiting a local park or a family barbecue is a great way to enjoy a relaxing American tradition, some of the more iconic Fourth of July celebrations are must-see events. Plan a great getaway to see some of the big events in New York, Washington, Boston or Philadelphia, or take in the more traditional smaller hometown events to participate in the nation’s history!