A Beginner’s Guide to the 4th July…

American Independence Day, or the 4th July, is huge here. It’s one of those rare days when the whole country stops and celebrates the same things – all things stars, stripes and summer. As such, it is probably surprising for anyone that’s grown up with this tradition that many people back in the ‘Mother Country’ don’t really know what Independence Day is all about.

What is it all About?

I’ve been asked more than once, as a Brit in the US, both if Independence Day is celebrated in the UK or if the British find it offensive. I think the answer is no and no! If it wasn’t for the movies there’s a fair chance that most of the UK wouldn’t have heard of the holiday. The date would pass most people by without note.

So, just what does it celebrate? On the 4th July,1776 the first thirteen colonies (Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Georgia, Connecticut, Massachusetts Bay, Maryland, South Carolina, New Hampshire, Virginia, New York, North Carolina, and Rhode Island and Providence Plantations) adopted the Declaration of Independence thus freeing themselves from the rule of the UK.

Full respect goes to the underdog for a rare win against the oppression of the Crown, a huge empire, and massive taxes (although we should probably give the French a little more credit in their role in the battle). The average working Brit back then would probably have been pretty envious of such liberty and today people rarely consider the origins of Anglo-American relations.

However, if you happen to find yourself in the ‘New World’ for the 4th of July (isn’t it fun saying he day the right way around this one day per year?!) what fun should you be partaking of?
Out and About

Firstly, hunt around for local organized events. Most towns will have a parade and possibly a local carnival (funfair), picnic or BBQ. Parades are generally morning affairs with local clubs and emergency vehicles marching past. My favorite part of our parade is always the dancing librarians – I love seeing our friends from the library pushing their returns carts and spinning in time to the music! Remember to take a bag to collect candy and small toys that might be thrown into the crowds; and if it’s hot go prepared with water, hats, sun screen etc. The latter events are more likely to be afternoon or evening affairs meaning that the enthusiastic can attend everything!

Part of the fun of any American holiday is wearing the correct color clothing. Honestly. Obviously, for the 4th red, white, blue, stars and stripy is the way forward. Normally I just dig around for whatever fits that description in our closest but I couldn’t resist the a little extra fun for the kids this year with these special tees. The littlest loves dogs and hot dogs and this logo tickled him pink! We’re looking forward to busting the new tees out already.

Unfortunately, by their very nature, my favorite part of any celebration has to be very late at night. The 4th of July has the biggest fireworks of the year. I love fireworks but I haven’t seen any for years. Unlike the UK where fireworks mean winter coats, bonfires and darkness arriving at 4pm (Guy Fawkes Day is on 5th of November) in the US it’s the height of summer and you’re lucky if events starts by 9pm. For my young family this is just too late. We’re a family of early risers even in the summer and this means bed by 7pm for the littles. I can be flexible but these events are simply too far off schedule too be fun for us. (If I want to fulfill my awesome list ambition of seeing fireworks this year I’m going to have to find another way to do it.)
Down Home Fun

With travel being so chaotic and in many places the weather being so hot many people opt to celebrate at home or with neighbors. Grilling out (a BBQ) and some good, honest, back yard fun is a great way to make an occasion of the day and start some family traditions of your own.

Here’s a few ideas to get you started:

You can introduce the holiday to children with the fantastic ‘Night Before…” series. ‘The Night Before the Forth of July’ is a fun way to discuss the events and excitement of the big day. (UK)

Patriotic Playdough

Patriotic Playdough is a favorite here in the lead up to the big day. I simply make a batch of blue playdough, or sometimes a batch in red, white and blue, and add whatever on theme tools and manipulatives I have around the house. Popular recently were foam off cuts, Micky Mouse cookie cutters and colored craft sticks. You can mix it up and let the children add in their own ideas.


Pouring Stations are great in summer. Last year this 4th July Color Lab by http://www.toddlerapproved.com was such a hit that we’ve repeated it three times since! It’s both hot weather cool and educational in one neat activity that will keep children of all ages busy while you sit back and watch.

Ribbon Sticks that we made for the British Royal Wedding earlier in the year could easily be adapted in to 4th July ribbon sticks for waving at parades or BBQ decorations. You can use wooden rings instead of sticks for younger children or for running in the garden just for the joy of beautiful flowing ribbons!

If you can’t make it out to the fireworks or host them at home (fireworks are not legal to purchase in many states) you can watch “A Capitol Forth’ on the lawn of the White House in Washington D.C. live on PBS and try out these firework crafts.

Fireworks marble painting by www.kidfriendlythingstodo.com is so easy to do and fun for the kids.

Glow sticks are a cheap and easy way to bring light inside. We made red, white and blue lanterns by simply (carefully) pouring the contents of a glow stick into a glass jar with a couple of spoons of water and sealing the lid and then shaking until the liquid is equally distributed. Turn out the lights and you have a delightful glow and can use the rest of the intact sticks as pretend sparklers. My kids LOVE glowsticks!

However you choose to celebrate I hope you have a lovely day. Let us know what you plan and get up to…

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