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In My Own Words

Reflections on the meaning of the Forth of July

Nick Pane

(7/2013) The grills have been fired up, vacations have been planned, and party season is in full swing. As of a couple of weeks ago (and really, over a month ago unofficially) summer is upon us once again, and what better way to celebrate than with old traditions as hot as the weather itself? These are the days meant for being outside, staying up late, and spending quality time with friends and loved ones in any capacity that you see fit. The good vibes and high spirits always manifest themselves during the summertime, perhaps even more so on one holiday in particular.

When it comes to holidays, there may not be another with such a variety of symbolism and tradition than the Fourth of July. The Fourth represents a distinct variety of patriotism and everyone's favorite summer-related pastimes, both of which many Americans proudly embrace. What is obviously unique about the Fourth is what the holiday stands for, as it is a day rich in history that allows us the opportunity to reflect as well as enjoy, culminating with a display of fireworks when day turns to night. Each family has their own traditions for the Fourth, but one thing we all share is gathering for the fireworks, which provide us with memories dating back to childhood.

My earliest and clearest memories of the Fourth were going to the local park with family and eagerly anticipating the sun going down so that the show could begin. This was easily the most enjoyable part of the day for me simply because of the aura fireworks instill upon youth. After a full day spent with family, it was always nice to lay back and watch the bright lights and colors fill the sky, and listening to the thunderous booms the rockets made once they exploded. It wasn't until I grew older that I developed a greater appreciation for what the fireworks embodied.

I'm sure I learned about the correlation between fireworks and "the bombs bursting in air" when I was younger, but I do not recall when that may have been. I don't necessarily care when I, or anyone else made the connection between the two, but I certainly hope that everyone stops to appreciate what the fireworks represent during the ceremony. Of course there is an entertainment value that should never be taken away from a fireworks show, but observing them for more than what is on the surface is important, given that the Fourth is a celebration for the birth of a nation.

As we all know, the Fourth of July is the annual celebration of the Thirteen Colonies separating from Great Britain and claiming its independence. A Continental Congress met in Philadelphia and voted on and approved of independence, prompting the creation of the Declaration of Independence. However, one of the lesser known details is that initial resolution was approved on July 2nd, and it wasn't until two days later that the Declaration itself was completed.

Thomas Jefferson, the author most associated with the Declaration, anticipated that Americans would commemorate July 2nd, not July 4th. Though July 2nd was the day Congress acted to approve America's independence, July 4th is the date that appears on the Declaration's final revision, and the rest is history. Such information is moot at this point, but it is interesting at the very least to consider that we almost celebrated "The Second of July". It sounds strange because we are not accustomed to it, especially so because the names of the biggest holidays are often substituted for what shows up on a calendar (honestly, have you ever heard anyone say "December 25th" out loud?).

I digress. The important thing to understand is that almost 240 years ago, America legally separated from Britain with the signing of the Declaration, and with its approval came more than a country. We developed an identity that will forever be tied to the American people. This country was founded upon the ideals of Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness, unalienable rights endowed to each and every person. Any and all religions could be practiced freely, and freedom of speech was to be a staple of how our rights represented everything our former rulers would never permit. It was a time of uncertainty and new beginnings, all of the hardships that our forefathers had endured a distant memory as they turned to the aspirations of what this country could become. A Revolution followed and after nearly eight years of bloodshed, America could definitively shed its title as a colony and stand acknowledged as a free country, destined to never again bow to any king.

The Fourth of July is way for us to commemorate all of the accomplishments that this country scrapped and fought valiantly for all those years ago. The Thirteen Colonies challenged the greatest empire on Earth and, with the help of France and a vast ocean, outlasted them. The United States has since gone on to become the world's greatest superpower, wearing our patriotism on our sleeve for better or worse, and celebrating our independence in ways only Americans know how.

Today, people spend their holiday with family and friends at barbecues, picnics, organized events in the community, and perhaps even a baseball game. If there is food and beer at your disposal, there is a good bet that you are celebrating in style, undoubtedly the way our forefathers would have wanted it. But the Fourth is more than just an all-day drinking event. It's another opportunity for Americans to reflect and give thanks.

We have our rights and our liberties because they are protected each day, so that we may enjoy our time with loved ones and the opportunities we have available to us. It's a great thing to have pride and passion about who you are and where you come from, but do not forget everything embedded in this great holiday. I fear that some of what the holiday represents may be lost on some people that are too caught up in the festivities of the day Perhaps there is no better time to reflect when you actually make your way over to see the fireworks with renditions of The Star Spangled Banner playing on repeat. The fireworks are a spectacle in and of themselves, capable of sending you on an emotional roller coaster depending on who you are and who you are watching them with.

Time feels at a standstill during the fireworks display. Chatter is at a bare minimum and all heads and focus are craned in one universal direction towards the heavens. There may not be another time when this country is more together and whole then right in that very moment. This is what the day is really about - nothing else matters for those ten minutes, save for climax of the entire holiday. If you don't do this already, I urge you to gaze beyond the bright lights, and take a look back in time. Think about everything you have right in front of you, and how it's all possible because of the sacrifices made when we decided that we would no longer be oppressed by an unruly tyrant. "The bombs bursting in air" speaks to both the past and present during the fireworks display - enjoy them for all that they are worth.

Read other articles by Nick Pane