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July 4th: what is celebrated and why today?

Although the parties, fireworks and groups celebrations may be somewhat muted in 2020, the coronavirus cannot take away the meaning behind the day.

July 4th: what is celebrated and why today?
TANNEN MAURY EFE

The fireworks will bang around the country, food will be prepared with more enthusiasm and many Americans will feel an extra sense of patriotism as July 4th 2020 rolls around. But what is it all about?

US celebrates 4th July

Ever since 1941, July 4th has been a federal holiday for all federal employees in the United States. That, any self-respecting American will know, is not where the traditional begins, however, and for that we must travel back to the American Revolution of the 18th century.

‘Independence Day’ is a well-known term for the occasion - Hollywood spreading it to all corners of the globe with the box-office hit of the same name - and this is exactly the point of the celebrations. On July 4th 1776 the 13 colonies adopted the Thomas Jefferson drafted Declaration of Independence, which had been voted on two days prior by the Continental Congress. This was seen as the date of the birth of US independence and it has been observed every year since.

Independence from what?

Although not everyone in the colonies were convinced that complete independence from the ruling British was the best way forward, momentum quickly built as the Revolutionary War began in 1775. Growing distain few the cause and that led Congress to appoint five men to draft a formal statement to justify the split from Great Britain.

Those men were: Thomas Jefferson of Virginia, John Adams of Massachusetts, Roger Sherman of Connecticut, Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania and Robert R. Livingston of New York. [Interestingly, Jefferson and Adams both died on July 4th 1826 - exactly 50 years later]

Mt. Rushmore National Monument in Keystone, South Dakota, USA, 03 July 2020.

From the early celebrations of mock funerals of King George III to focus minds on the end of British rule, to grand parades, gun firing, bonfires, barbecues and the obligatory fireworks, celebrations of all types have covered the country over the years. Another clash with the British, in the War of 1812, gave further meaning to the concept of independence and increased the patriotism behind it.

For more information about the background to Independence Day in the United States check out the History webpage.