Red, white and blue cupcakes

Thanksgiving is all about the turkey. Your family has its variations–that special sweet potato recipe, or whether you serve peas or cauliflower. For a lot of families, there is even some ritual of saying thanks. Maybe you go around the table and mention one thing you’re thankful for, or Dad leads a special prayer.

We have Christmas traditions, Passover rituals and New Year’s Eve celebrations. But what about the 4th of July?

We don’t seem to have a national ritual for celebrating our day of independence. I’d guess many Americans celebrate the day without thinking about the meaning at all. For some the day is about the beach, grilling and fireworks. It’s a day off spent with the family or the neighborhood and fireworks at the end. Perhaps we attend the city band concert and watch the fireworks. Red, white and blue cupcakes, paper plates and bunting add festive color to the occasion. But what does it all mean?

Back in my Army days at Ft. Monroe, the 4th of July was the longest day of the year. Our first gig was at noon when we played for the traditional ceremony celebrating the Union. A cannon shot for each of the 50 states (that is a long time to stand at attention in Virginia July heat). The day ended with a concert and the 1812 Overture for the grand finale–with the MPs joining us, blasting away on their big guns. And of course–the biggest fireworks display on the peninsula (followed by the biggest traffic jam).

The common theme for all these celebrations does seem to be the fireworks. Maybe all those fireworks come from the line in the anthem about the “rockets red glare, the bombs bursting in air.” It’s easy to forget those rockets and bombs were not purchased from the temporary stand outside the city limits and smuggled in. They were real bombs, attacking Ft. McHenry in Baltimore Harbor. Visit the Smithsonian sometime and see the Star Spangled Banner exhibition. Or take a trip to Baltimore and walk around Ft McHenry. It will help you re-live that moment when Francis Scott Key saw that “our flag was still there.”

For me, this is what the 4th of July is about. Our flag, flying proudly for over two centuries. A salute to those who defend that flag, including our troops overseas, and a reminder to all of us who live under it that our freedom comes at a price. It is a precious thing, we often take for granted. Maybe we should take a moment around the dinner table tonight for each of us to give one reason we are thankful to be an American.


  1. This is a marvelous piece, Teresa. We do need to acknowledge the real meaning of Independence Day. For many of us, it appears to be a free gift, but we know now that freedom isn’t free.

    I hadn’t known you were in the Army–how interesting. It sounds as though you were in the band–how cool. What instrument did you play? I played the clarinet for many years, both in bands and orchestras.

    Thanks for these thoughtful words.

    • I played Clarinet and sometimes bass clarinet.

      Here are some pictures.

      Do you still play? I pull my clarinet out from time to time and play at church. It’s been years since I played in a band. I do miss that.

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