Fireworks and Fanfare: A Brief History Of Fourth of July Celebrations By Heather Roselle

In 1776, John Adams wrote in a letter to Abigail that the celebration of America’s independence “ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shews, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations from one end of the continent to the other.” If you’re wondering what “shews” are, they’re not the kind that go on your feet– rather, it’s an old-fashioned spelling for “show.” The Fourth of July has always been an emblematic celebration of traditional American culture, which to many may mean “shews” of sparklers, flags, fireworks and ribbons dancing thirty feet into the sky. John Adams hypothesized that this holiday should be deeply honored and celebrated publicly, perhaps to show to the rest of the world that the country and its founders do not intend to be treated as England’s temperamental daughter. Fourth of July celebrations are an American tradition akin to apple pie, with a history as layered and foundational as a proper crust. 

To some, the Fourth of July is a chance to reflect on America’s complicated history and how we continue to grapple with its gravity. To others, it’s a chance to eat red-white-and-blue popsicles and go swimming. Both are fine, because there’s no one right way to celebrate the holiday. In the past, one tradition has remained a steadfast constant: fireworks. Since the invention of gunpowder fireworks in ancient China, America has been enchanted with a madness for pyrotechnics. Perhaps the reason why we love fireworks so much is because of their nature- loud, ruckus-causing- almost impossible to ignore, much like the actions of an early nation that yearned for independence, and was willing to achieve it by any means possible, even war. Americans were, and are, obsessed with the concept of noisy celebrations- a Harper’s Bazaar newspaper in 1871 writes that people celebrated the holiday with noisemakers, fireworks, bonfires, and “every other possible contrivance for making a blaze and a noise.” 

America’s deep infatuation with the idea of being independent, underscored by the emphasis on rugged individualism, means that the Fourth of July is a chance for people to connect to the loud, ruckus-causing actions of the country’s founders. It is a chance to engage with a culture that is deeply complex via food, music, and celebration, and people have been doing so for centuries. President Zachary Taylor even fell ill in 1850 after eating too many cherries with iced milk, a popular Fourth of July themed dish (he died five days later). To cause an uproar, even if it means your downfall, is a distinctly American imperative. 

This Fourth of July, celebrate how you want to. It’s important to be mindful of veterans and individuals in your community who are sensitive to loud noise, but don’t eat too many cherries with iced milk, either. Here at Allaire, you can come celebrate by joining us for Independence Day Weekend, where we’ll have on display our one-of-a-kind collection of American flags from many different corners of history. We’re excited to have you help us “Keep History Alive!” (Sorry, President Taylor! Too soon?). We can’t wait red- “wait”-and blue to see you!

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