A guide to 4th of July for non-Americans

Posted at 10:13 PM, Jul 03, 2019
and last updated 2019-07-04 00:13:21-04

All across America on July 4, men in red, white and blue tank tops dust off their grills, children chuck exploding paper wrappers in cul-de-sacs, and patriotic-themed commercials take over the airwaves.

It’s Independence Day.

If you grew up elsewhere and already thought American customs were a bit odd, here’s what you need to know about this important holiday.

Why the Fourth of July?

On July 4, 1776, the Declaration of Independence was adopted by the Continental Congress, two days after a vote on whether to separate from the United Kingdom. The Declaration, drafted by Thomas Jefferson (who eventually became President and who died on the Fourth), is basically America’s birth certificate, declaring the US separate from British power.

Though these Founding Fathers signed the document in the 1700s, Independence Day didn’t officially become a holiday until 1870, and it became a federal paid one in 1941.

So you can think of the Fourth as a giant nationwide birthday party for which we use giant candles that explode violently in the sky.

Why the phrase ‘land of the free, home of the brave’?

This line comes from the national anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner,” which was written by Francis Scott Key. If you listen to the lyrics closely, you’ll note that the song recounts the events of the Fort McHenry bombardment in 1814.

In 1931, it was named the national anthem. Don’t worry, you don’t have to memorize the whole thing; humming along works fine for many Americans.

What’s with all the hot dogs?

Hot dogs became extremely popular in the United States in the late 19th century. These bad boys are now a staple food at any July 4th cookout. Americans consumed at least 150 million hot dogs on the Fourth last year, according to the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council.

Why do we blow things up?

Fireworks were brought to the United States initially by Italian immigrants who settled here in the late 19th century. Now, America consumes fireworks in massive quantities in honor of this holiday, importing over 250 million pounds of consumer-brand and display fireworks in 2017, according to the American Pyrotechnics Association.

But fireworks actually have a much deeper history here than you may think. Our history of making things go “boom” in celebration dates to 1777, a year after independence was declared. That year, a Philadelphia celebration included 13 fireworks set off on the Commons in honor of the 13 colonies.

How else do Americans celebrate?

It would be easier to count the ways we don’t find a way to celebrate in the name of the Fourth. Grilling, picnics, festivals, parades: There are events held across the nation in its honor.

In Atlanta, folks make room for all that grilled food by running in the AJC Peachtree Road Race, the world’s largest 10K. And at New York’s Coney Island, the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest is practically its own holiday.

I’m in the U.S. Where can I go to join in on the fun?

There are plenty of ways to get your Fourth on, whether it’s a traditional parade or a weirder avenue of celebration. A lot of small parades are run by local fire departments and schools, so check there for upcoming events. Many fireworks shows are staged from downtown areas; follow the long line of slow-moving cars headed that direction.