The Fourth of July is everyone’s favorite summer celebration. But beyond the cookouts, fireworks, and fun there lies a deeper significance. Here, readers share what our country’s most patriotic holiday means to them.
Growing up in a small rural town in western New York during the 1970s, the summers were the most anticipated and treasured time of year. After nine months of snowdrifts and windchill, we basked in the sun. Children went outside after breakfast to play and stayed there until bedtime.
For me, the best day of summer was always July Fourth. My extended family would come to our house, the excitement building as the cars began lining up in the long dirt driveway. Cousins spilled out and raced to join us in games of horseshoes or badminton on the lawn. My grandmother brought casserole dishes of baked beans with bacon and brown sugar on top, as well as potato and macaroni salads topped with sliced hard-boiled eggs and liberal sprinklings of paprika. Aunts and uncles unloaded coolers filled with ambrosia salads, coleslaw, and desserts. Cans of soda were kept on ice for the kids, and the adults never seemed to notice just how many times we went back for more. My dad grilled hamburgers, beef hot dogs, Italian sausages, and barbecued chicken.
When dusk began to fall, the children were given sparklers and doused with mosquito repellent, and the adults would light a bonfire. We hunted for the perfect sticks along the tree line of our property and used them to roast marshmallows. We chased fireflies and played hide-and-seek until the adults grew weary and began to say their good-byes. I remember feeling sad whenever the first aunt or uncle would ask the person parked behind them to move their car, as that was a sign the magic was ending. In our little part of the country, it was friends and family that made the Fourth of July so special.
-KIMBERLY FISHER Cypress, Texas
The sight of our country’s flag makes my heart flutter every time I see it wave. I remember vividly the day we waited on the front steps of my grandmother’s house for my father to return from serving in the U.S. Army Air Force during World War II. I was 3½ and we had never met at the time, but I recognized him instantly.
The patriotism of my family has followed me throughout my life, and the Fourth of July is my favorite holiday. I love celebrating our country’s birthday and its history with red, white, and blue old flags, quilts, pillows, and other décor throughout my home. Memories of my soldier dad’s return are still cherished. Every year, we end the day with a picnic, followed by a trip to the lake to watch the fireworks.
-NANCY BAILEY Middletown, California
As a Virginian and a lover of history, I am surrounded with reminders of the many patriots from my state who were such a part of our nation’s quest for freedom. I only have to go a few miles up Broad Street, in my home city of Richmond, to visit the site of Patrick Henry’s famous “Give me liberty, or give me death!” speech at Saint John’s Church. The road west of town leads to Thomas Jefferson’s beloved Monticello. A visit there or to George Washington’s Mount Vernon, north of Richmond, leaves one with a palpable feeling of the greatness of these men, the ingenuity they possessed, and the commitment they had to create a better America.
Each year, on the Fourth of July, I wonder what those men of the eighteenth century would think of the seed of freedom they sowed so long ago that has blossomed into true freedom for all our citizens. As I place my American flag on my front porch, I will think of them, thank them, and say to myself, “Let freedom ring!”
-PATSY SAUNDERS Richmond, Virginia
Patriotism! That is what the Fourth of July means to me—Old Glory and plenty of red, white, and blue. It is a time to pay tribute to our past and present soldiers, who deserve so much gratitude and honor. I start decorating on June 14 (Flag Day), and my family and I continue the celebration all the way until July 9, which is my birthday. My husband is a veteran, too, so I could not imagine not observing this important holiday. A big thank-you and a giant hug to all of our military personnel, as well as your families!
-DEBBIE FISCHER Florissant, Colorado
One of my earliest memories of the Fourth of July is waking to the strains of a John Philip Sousa march drifting through my open bedroom window. I remember lying there, listening to the trombones, my growing excitement fed by the clash of cymbals. Since then, I have experienced the sights and sounds of Independence Day in places as far away as Osan Air Base in South Korea and as nearby as Plymouth, Massachusetts. No matter where I am, I eagerly look forward to this day and all that goes with it—the loud pop of firecrackers; the mouthwatering flavor of barbecue; the bright displays of red, white, and blue; and the explosive light show of evening fireworks.
For me, the Fourth of July is not a celebration of our nation’s historical declaration of independence; it is a celebration of America’s ongoing exploration of freedom. And, like the patchwork quilts our pioneering forebearers pieced, we represent that principle with strips of red for those who have died fighting to gain this freedom, as well as with strips of white for those who strove to make their dreams come true here. Interspersed are patches of all colors and patterns, each based on our individual life choices. Each time a tear or rip weakens the fabric, we patch it with a gold star. Surrounding it all is a border of blue that symbolizes the self-created entity we call representative government. This freedom is what I remember most each Fourth of July.
-SANDRA NICHOLS Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin