It’s almost that time of year again when families gather together sporting their best red-white-and-blue at social events that feature good old-fashioned hotdogs and watermelon while the fireworks dazzle and entertain the crowds. Before we know it, the Fourth of July will be upon us. It will be time to proclaim freedom! But before we do that, let’s take a quick moment to remember the meaning behind our patriotic holiday.
A brief history of how the United States proclaimed freedom
- In 1585, British settlers established the first colony on Roanoke Island in an area that is now a part of North Carolina. British colonization continued right through 1783. For nearly 200 years, the British colonization grew by force, helping itself multiply based on economic opportunity and the influx of immigrants. Interestingly, the British had initially fled Europe to escape the constraints of feudalism; they found freedom along the east coast by establishing colonies.
- The persistent British rule caused conflicts among the disparate peoples including enslaved Africans, those born in what is now known as the United States and other ethnic groups. On April 19, 1775, George Washington sent militaristic forces to defeat the British. This fight became known as the Battles of Lexington and Concord and was the start of the American Revolutionary War.
- On July 2, 1776, the Second Continental Congress passed the Resolution for Independence, which called for freedom and independence from British rule of the 13 colonies. On July 3, John Adams wrote a letter to his wife with unique reflections and predictions: “I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, … [and] solemnized with Pomp and Parade, … and Illuminations …”
- On July 4, 1776, the Second Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence in which the thirteen colonies were now regarded as individual states and British rule was no longer observed. However, the fighting continued for several years. The very last battle known as the Siege of Yorktown took place on October 19, 1781. The British had finally surrendered, and the American troops had won its fight for the defeat and independence from British rule. On September 3, 1783, the United States and Great Britain signed The Treaty of Paris, making the United States a sovereign nation.
Remembering freedom through respect and celebration
Though the United States was not legally declared a free nation until several years after Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence, Americans reacted with intuition and optimism by organizing the very first Fourth of July celebration in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on July 4, 1777. This first celebration included an elegant dinner, a band performance and an exhibition of fireworks.
The White House began celebrating the Fourth of July during Thomas Jefferson’s presidency in 1801. Since then, each president and his family have celebrated the Fourth of July in unique ways every year. In 1941, the United States Congress declared the Fourth of July, also known as Independence Day and the nation’s birthday, a federal holiday.
In 1981, PBS presented “A Capital Fourth,” a telecast concert featuring orchestral music and songs from the West Lawn of the United States Capitol Building. Now in its 43rd year, “A Capital Fourth” continues strong, featuring a bevy of Hollywood actors, singers, and musicians to provide lively patriotic entertainment. This PBS show, televised through local affiliate WETA, beautifully toggles between elegant entertainment and recitations of historical facts and emotional vignettes about the military movements, political opposition and bloodshed. The presentation, created with utmost respect for the meaning of freedom, pulls at the heart strings and guides every man, woman, and child to understand why freedom is never free.
For many years, the United States has carried on the tradition of celebrating the Fourth of July, which is also known as the nation’s birthday, every year on July 4.
Celebrating the Fourth of July throughout the DMV
Families can expect to celebrate in educational, meaningful and joyous ways throughout the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area. Check local government websites, libraries and recreation centers for parades, live historic interpretations and fun children’s crafts and activities.
Families will also delight in participating in larger-scale Fourth of July events.
Here are a few suggestions for patriotic excitement!
- Families are invited to see the largest local display of fireworks at the National Mall. The National Park Service is in charge of organizing Fourth of July events. For more information: nps.gov/subjects/nationalmall4th/index.htm.
- The National Independence Day Parade takes place annually on July 4th at 11:45 a.m. in Washington, D.C., on Constitution Avenue from 7th to 17th Street. The parade features floats, bands, drum corps, military units, balloons, equestrian participants and a few celebrity guests. For more information: july4thparade.com/about.
- “A Capital Fourth” concert airs on PBS (WETA local affiliate) on July 4 at 8:00 p.m. Locals can also go to the National Mall to see the concert live in person. For more information: pbs.org/a-capitol-fourth.
- Every year, the Smithsonian presents its culturally diverse Folklife Festival in the days leading up to the Fourth of July and for a few days afterward. Though the themes change, the Smithsonian always intersects thoughtful commentary with diversity, culture and people. In 2023, the Smithsonian is putting the spotlight on world religions with its ode to “Creative Encounters: Living Religions in the U.S.” for its Folklife Festival. For more information: festival.si.edu/2023/creative-encounters.
Celebrate by proclaiming freedom!
The Fourth of July festivities can be a good time for children to understand the difficult concepts of freedom in a powerful way. Parents can provide simple information about how many people throughout the world do not have the same freedoms we have in the United States. As you enjoy the many Fourth of July celebrations, be sure to proclaim freedom and remember with gratitude everything our nation went through to get to this point. Above all, have fun!