Happy Fourth of July!

Get the history behind this star-spangled celebration

July 04, 2016

Confetti falls on concert-goers as they watch the Fourth of July Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular in Boston, Massachusetts, on July 4, 2013.

Backyard barbecues. Boisterous parades. Bright, colorful firework displays. The Fourth of July, also known as Independence Day, is anything but your average holiday.

A Historic Event

One of the most celebrated events in the United States, the Fourth marks the day that the Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence, on July 4, 1776, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The written statement declared that the 13 North American colonies intended to separate from Britain. Penned by a committee headed by Thomas Jefferson, it signaled a break in colonial ties with Britain. Although representatives did not sign the declaration until August 1776, the Fourth of July stands as the official day to celebrate our nation's independence.

Until the declaration was signed, America was a part of the British Empire. But as the colonies grew, Americans felt that the British government was treating them unfairly. They felt that they were paying too much in taxes to Britain and thought the colonies should have a say in how things were governed.

By June 1776, Americans were tired of trying to work out an agreement with Britain. They were also tired of being told what to do, so they decided to write the Declaration of Independence.

The First Celebration

On July 8, 1776, the first celebration took place in Philadelphia. On that day, the declaration was read aloud, city bells rang, and bands played. That summer, many towns marked the historic event with a mock funeral for the King of England. This symbolized the death of the monarchy and ushered in the days of liberty. Hundreds of years later, the national holiday remains important, as a day to pay tribute to the United States of America—its laws, heritage, history, and people.

Fireworks are displayed over the U.S. Capitol and National Monument in Washington, D.C., on July 4, 2013.

Fireworks are displayed over the U.S. Capitol and National Monument in Washington, D.C., on July 4, 2013.

A Patriotic Tradition

Many communities hold colorful parades complete with marching bands and patriotic speeches. Citizens hang American flags from their homes, and buildings are decorated in red, white, and blue. At night, booming firework displays, usually ending with a spectacular finale, can be seen at various parks and fairgrounds. Two of the biggest firework shows take place in Washington, D.C., on the National Mall, and in New York City.

Want to show your U.S. pride this Fourth of July? It's easy! First, put on your favorite red, white, and blue clothes. Next, ask your mom or dad to hang the flag outside your apartment or house, or line the driveway with mini flags. Then, find a holiday parade or festival in your neighborhood. And don't forget to map out a good spot in the park (or even in front of the TV) to watch those dazzling fireworks!

Did You Know?

• Independence Day was not declared a legal holiday until 1870. But that didn't stop people from celebrating!

• Work on the Erie Canal in 1817, the laying of the cornerstone of the Washington Monument in 1848, and the laying of the cornerstone of the Freedom Tower all began on the Fourth of July.

• The city of Boston, Massachusetts, first commemorated Independence Day on March 5, 1783, the day of the Boston Massacre.

• Fireworks were made in China as early as the 12th Century! The Chinese originally used them for war rockets and explosives.

• There were 13 original colonies. Can you name them all?

Current subscribers log in/register for 

Registered Users Log In

Forgot Password?
Register Now for FREE
Subscriber Benefits
Do it now to get all this:
  • Access to Interactive Digital Editions
  • Online Archives of Past Lessons & Teachers' Guides
  • Interactive Teacher Community
Website Login Page