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Mounted police in the Fourth of July parade, Lynn, Mass.

Celebrating July 4th, or Independence Day, is one of the highlights of the summer months in many communities. The day is usually marked by cook-outs, picnics, and sporting events that bring families and communities together. Many towns and cities also sponsor parades. Local parades typically feature marching bands, fire trucks, local civic organizations and politicians, as well as floats in keeping with a theme. Many parades have a patriotic or civic flavor, while others, such as Gloucester's "Horribles" parade, combine whimsy with more traditional elements.

Fourth of July parade, Reading, Mass.The 4th of July culminates often with a fireworks display or a community bonfire. While no community can match the annual spectacle on the banks of the Charles River, their displays still can be impressive. While the 4th of July is a day of celebration and fun, for many, it still stirs feelings of patriotism symbolized by the raising of the flag--and rightly so. Independence Day marks "...the legal separation of the American colonies from Great Britain." Though we celebrate this event on July 4th, it actually took place on July 2, 1776 in Philadelphia. On that day, "the Second Continental Congress voted to approve a resolution of independence that had been proposed in June by Richard Henry Lee of Virginia."

“Working for victory Lawrence CLU AFL”, July 4, 1942It took until August 2, 1776 until the Declaration of Independence was finalized and signed, but July 4th has long been recognized as the official anniversary of U.S. independence. In 1781, the Massachusetts General Court became the first state legislature to recognize July 4th as a state celebration. It was not declared a legal holiday, until 1941.

Inflated floats in July 4th parade, Lawrence, Mass. Strangely enough, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, the only signatories of the Declaration of Independence to be elected president of the United States, both died on July 4th, 1826. President James Monroe died exactly five years later, on July 4, 1831, however he was not a signatory to the Declaration of Independence. The Fourth is traditionally celebrated publicly with parades, pageants, patriotic speeches, the firing of guns and cannons and fireworks. Early in the 20th century public concern for a "safe and sane" holiday did result in restrictions on general use of fireworks.

July 4th bonfire, Saugus, Mass., 1909Massachusetts law requires that one be licensed to purchase and display fireworks. This law does not prevent thousands of citizens from procuring and setting off their own displays each year, either to the delight or chagrin of their neighbors. Independence Day, historically, was an occasion marked by mportant speeches by famous orators. This tradition is said to have begun in Boston, where the citizens were already familiar with the "Boston Massacre Orations." The first Fourth of July oration was given by John Warren in 1783. Thus began a series of "immensely successful and nationally influential series of commemorative addresses."

"Liberty and Justice" float in the July 4th parade, Lawrence, Mass.These addresses were published as pamphlets for easy distribution and, consequently, influenced many cities and towns to include orations in their own local observances. "...the foremost task of these Fourth of July orations was to describe and delimit the nation's past as well as predict and project the nation's future. Like the revolutionary poets and historians, Independence Day orators participated in shaping the nation's traditions, civil religion, and myths."

"Doughboys" marching in the July 4th parade, Lawrence, Mass., 1942"How shall we maintain, as a nation, our respectability, should be the grand subject of inquiry. This is the object to which we must attend; for the moment America sullies her name, by forfeiting her honor, the fame she has acquired from the heroism of her sons, and the virtues she has displayed in the midst of her distress, will only serve, like a grain of mourners, to attend the funeral of her glory. But, by a die cultivation of manners,a firm adherence to the faith we have pledged, and union in council, a refinement in sentiment, a liberality and a benevolence of conduct, we shall render ourselves happy at home and respectable abroad; our constellation will brighten in the political hemisphere and the radiance of our stars sparkle with increasing lustre."--Jonathan Austin Loring (1876)

4th of July pageant:  ransom of Mary RowlandsonToward the end of the nineteenth century, local governments began to respond to complaints that July 4th revelry was dangerous and, using their growing power, assumed responsibility for controlling forms of celebration. At this time, they instituted policies such as requiring permits for parades and banning individuals from purchasing and using fireworks. In addition to organizing public orations to mark the holiday, local officials also began to sponsor picnics, games, athletic contests, dances and parades. These parades were called "carnival parades" and were theatrical in nature and often related to historical events. They were composed of re-enactments and also tableaux. By taking control of holiday celebrations, local governments not only attempted to reduce lawlessness and social disturbance, but to impart a specific and shared interpretation of historical events.

4th of July parade, Wakefield, Mass., 1953Celebrations of July 4th holiday retain traditional elements of national and civic pride, as well as a sense of anticipation; anticipation of the summer days before us and of the explosive spectacle that highlights a day of festivities.

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