The Fourth of July may be my favorite holiday because it is unambiguous.

We celebrate. I always feel slightly guilty on Memorial Day and Veterans Day, enjoying my day off. Those are days of commemoration.

All Americans can fully celebrate the Fourth, regardless of their religious affiliations or lack thereof. It has no religious overtones, as Christmas does.

It does not bring with it the romantic pressures of Valentine’s Day. There’s no need to drink green beer and pretend we’re all Irish, as on St. Patrick’s Day.

Today, we may even eschew our favorite leisure activity, shopping. Although, thankfully, the supermarkets are open in case we run out of Doritos.

We can just celebrate, in the way that founding father John Adams envisioned in a letter to his wife, Abigail:

“It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shows, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.”

Adams thought the date should be the second of July, when the Continental Congress voted to remove the colonies from British rule. He also wanted to make it a day of religious observance. Let’s conveniently disregard those thoughts and also interpret the reference to guns as celebratory cannon fire, because we are here today to celebrate, and not quibble.

Personally, I have nothing but good memories of the Fourth, which I can’t say for every holiday. Once, my husband, Paul, and I ate Christmas dinner at a Chinese restaurant (yes, just like in “A Christmas Story”) because we were out of town and that was the only option. There was a Thanksgiving when our only alternative to a canceled restaurant reservation was a can of clam chowder.

Holidays spent with elderly parents in nursing facilities were wrenching.

My childhood Fourths meant open-air meals and fireworks. There may have been some barbecues along the way, but generally the cooking was done indoors (and the eating outdoors), because we were having a clam boil. As Portuguese-Americans, we had chouriço (Portuguese-style sausage) in the pot along with the steamers and potatoes. I want to say carrots, too, but that may be heresy.

We often spent Independence Day with my father’s sister and her family, so there were fractious games of croquet (we took it seriously) and badminton, as well as impromptu watermelon seed spitting contests.

The fireworks display, in the southeastern Massachusetts town where I grew up, arced over the town beach, where I took swimming lessons for many years. Later we would learn that the river water was laced with PCPs, which somehow seems very American to me. People parked their cars on roadsides and in parking lots and sat on the hoods — which were prodigious, back in the day — to watch.

I remember considering it a rite of passage (though probably not in those exact words) when, instead of watching the fireworks with my parents, I went in to the city with my friends. We sat on a hillside in a park, on one of those gauzy Indian throws that were popular in the 1970s, to watch the display.

I’m glad to be able to say that at least once, when I was in college, I was able to attend the famous Boston Pops concert on the Esplanade. It would be a bucket list item if I hadn’t.

The British set off fireworks — and light bonfires — on Guy Fawkes Day, Nov. 5. I celebrated it once while visiting friends. Their freezer had died, so they cooked up all the defrosted meat on a grill, and we watched the neighbors’ fireworks displays. The ritual was so familiar, but here I was with the other side of the Revolution, celebrating the fact that a 17th-century plot to blow up Parliament had failed.

When I came to Augusta as an adult, I was delighted by the celebrations at Fort Western, which included a reading of the Declaration of Independence and the switching out of British and American flags.

My husband doesn’t really like fireworks. Luckily, I can see them from our house. Some years they are visible from the back deck, and some years from the front porch. I just follow the noise. Though I am alone, I can hear people cheering out in the darkness, in between the booms.

It’s a good time to reflect on how fragile our freedoms are. As a writer and a librarian, I am a fierce defender of the First Amendment. But in the highest office in the land, the truth is twisted daily, and journalists are called the enemy of the people. I am worried, too, about the integrity of the next presidential election.

I wish I could sound the alarm as clearly as Paul Revere did in 1775: “The British are coming!” But our current situation is so much more complicated. All we can do is be vigilant.

On Independence Day, let’s celebrate; but let’s also remember not to let our hard-fought freedoms slip away. As John Adams said, “Liberty, once lost, is lost forever.”


Liz Soares welcomes email at [email protected].

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: