As with everything, celebrations change over time and this is especially true when it comes to how Americans spend the 4th of July. Regardless of what the commemoration looks like, Americans should take the time to honor the day that our great nation gained its independence. Let's take a look at how the holiday has changed.

Early Independence Day celebrations

While the legal separation of the original 13 colonies from Great Britain actually occurred on July 2, it took two more days for Congress to officially approve the Declaration of Independence. Early celebrations of the occasion consisted of the following:

  • 1777 (one year later): 13 gunshots were fired in salute in the morning and evening. Many celebrated by having a nice dinner with toasts, music and parades, similar to what you would see today.
  • 1781: Massachusetts recognized July 4 as a state holiday, becoming the first to do so.

For many centuries, people have been lighting fireworks and organizing parades for Americans to come together to recognize the day in 1776 when we finally became an independent nation. One of the oldest Independence Day celebrations occurred in Bristol, Rhode Island and is known as the Bristol Fourth of July Parade. According to their website, it all began "in 1785 when Rev. Henry Wight of the First Congregational Church and a Veteran of the Revolutionary War conducted the first Patriotic Exercises."


The official holiday

In 1870, the U.S. Congress officially declared July 4th as an unpaid holiday for federal employees. It took many more years for the federal government to dub the day as a federal holiday for all American citizens, meaning that all employees must be paid for their day off. After it became a federal holiday, post offices, the DMV and court houses started to shut down for the day, regardless of what day of the week it falls on.

To commemorate the newly paid holiday, fireworks were shot off, reminiscent of the gunshots that were originally used to celebrate independence. Today, Americans still adhere to this custom, spending about $1.5 billion annually on fireworks.

Modern-day celebrations

These days, everyone celebrates the Fourth of July a little differently. Americans still love to spend time outside with friends and family, barbequing and remembering that important day so many years ago. After two years of not being able to attend parades or other social gatherings because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the American people are looking forward to socializing once again. Here are some things you can expect:

  • Smithsonian Folklife Festival: This national event is sponsored by the National Parks Service and a few other organizations. It has music, dancing, cooking demonstrations, film screenings and other events that showcase the variety that our nation has to offer.
  • National Independence Day Parade: This parade occurs on the 4th of July and marches its way along Constitution Avenue NW from 7th Street NW to 17th Street NW in Washington, DC.
  • July 4th Celebrations in Greater Philadelphia: It may not come as a surprise that Philadelphia has many Independence Day activities to participate in during the holiday. This is perfect if you are near the area already or want to take advantage of the day off by visiting the historic city yourself.

Take the time to find a local celebration near you and use the opportunity to relax, enjoy yourself and remember all of the historic events that led up to our current celebrations of the 4th.