What to know about Fourth of July holiday origins and traditions

iamhz, Tuesday, July 4, 2023

“ST. Louis (AP) — Independence Day embodies the essence of American culture: vibrant parades, joyful outdoor feasts, refreshing beverages, and, undoubtedly, magnificent fireworks displays.”

However, these pyrotechnic displays also lend an air of peril to the holiday, annually leading to over 10,000 visits to emergency rooms. Nevertheless, fireworks have remained the focal point of Independence Day, an enduring tradition spanning 247 years.

Here, we delve into five key aspects of July Fourth, including the holiday’s origin and the intertwining of fireworks with this cherished tradition.

UNRAVELING THE ROOTS OF INDEPENDENCE DAY?

The holiday honors the significant event when the Second Continental Congress, in unison, embraced the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776.

This historic document served as a clarion call, proclaiming the separation of the colonies from Great Britain.

According to the Library of Congress, it was precisely one year later that Philadelphia witnessed an impromptu celebration marking the anniversary of American independence. However, it took some time for such observances to become ubiquitous across the burgeoning nation. It was not until the culmination of the War of 1812 that the tradition genuinely soared to new heights. “The Library of Congress further highlights that major historical events in the 19th century, such as the groundbreaking ceremonies for the Erie Canal and the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, were deliberately scheduled to align with the magnificence of Fourth of July festivities.”

The Ascendance of Fireworks as a July Fourth Training?

The spectacle of pyrotechnics has played an integral role in Independence Day festivities since their inception. Founding Father John Adams astutely foresaw this development.

In a letter to his wife, Abigail, dated July 3, 1776, Adams expressed his belief that the commemoration of America’s independence “ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires, and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.”

Fireworks existed centuries before the birth of the United States. As per the American Pyrotechnics Association, many historians posit that fireworks were initially devised in ancient China during the second century B.C. by thrusting bamboo stalks into fires, thus engendering explosions as the hollow air pockets overheated.

By the 15th century, fireworks had become prevalent during religious festivals and public revelries in Europe. The early settlers of the United States carried forward these traditions, fostering their integration into the fabric of American celebrations.

ANY PRESIDENTIAL REFUSALS TO FETE THE OCCASION?

Except for John Adams, who unwaveringly clung to his belief, presidents spanning from George Washington to Joe Biden have wholeheartedly celebrated the nation’s inception on the Fourth of July.

Ironically, Adams, despite penning the aforementioned letter to his wife, adamantly refused to partake in the holiday on July 4. He staunchly believed that July 2 held the utmost significance as Independence Day, as it marked the moment in 1776 when the Continental Congress voted in favor of the resolution for independence. “Nevertheless, it took an additional two-day span for the formal adoption of the Declaration of Independence to achieve its ultimate culmination.”

Even while serving as the nation’s second president, Adams turned down invitations to festivals and other events. It is noteworthy that both Adams and Thomas Jefferson, the primary architect of the Declaration of Independence, departed this world on the momentous occasion of the document’s 50th anniversary of its official ratification, precisely on July 4, 1826.

THE POPULARITY OF FIREWORKS: A VIBRANT SPECTACLE?

In the last twenty years, the sales of fireworks to consumers have witnessed a remarkable surge.

Data provided by the American Pyrotechnics Association indicates that in the year 2000, American consumers allocated a sum of $407 million towards the purchase of fireworks. By 2022, this expenditure had skyrocketed to $2.3 billion. The surge in sales was particularly pronounced during the COVID-19 pandemic, when public fireworks displays were curtailed. “Consumer sales witnessed a significant surge, soaring from $1 billion in 2019 to $1.9 billion in 2020.”

Julie Heckman, the executive director of the American Pyrotechnics Association, noted, “People flocked to fireworks stores from Memorial Day weekend onwards, and their enthusiasm showed no signs of abating throughout 2020. “This unprecedented surge took the industry by surprise.”

Projections suggest that sales will see a further increase of $100 million this year. This surge can be attributed to the fortunate occurrence of the Fourth of July falling on a Tuesday, thereby creating a four-day weekend.

The Perils of Fireworks: A Cautionary Tale?

Despite extensive education initiatives, fireworks continue to exact a toll, leaving thousands of Americans severely injured each year. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, 10,200 individuals sought treatment at emergency rooms for firework-related injuries in 2022, while 11 deaths were attributed to such accidents. Around 75% of these injuries occurred during the proximity of the Fourth of July.

These injuries frequently impact the head, face, ears, or eyes, constituting approximately one-third of the reported incidents. Finger, hand, and leg injuries are also prevalent.

Dr. Tiffany Osborn, an esteemed specialist in the field of emergency medicine at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis, shared harrowing experiences, stating, “I have witnessed individuals who have suffered the loss of fingers, the loss of eyes, and significant facial trauma.”

Alas, children under 15 comprise almost one-third of those injured by fireworks, with sparklers often to blame for burns among children under the age of 5. As an alternative, Dr. Osborn suggested substituting small children’s sparklers with glow sticks or colorful streamers.

For individuals intending to engage in fireworks displays, Heckman advised locating a flat, sturdy, and even surface at a safe distance from buildings and flammable objects. The individual in charge of handling the fireworks should abstain from consuming alcohol. It is crucial to ensure that children never ignite fireworks.

Osborn recommended having a bucket or hose readily accessible in case of fire or explosion. It is advisable to ignite one firework at a time and promptly move away after lighting it. Under no circumstances should a malfunctioning firework be relit or handled. After the fireworks have been used, it is essential to collect the remnants with a shovel and thoroughly soak them before disposal.

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