Norman Knight: Celebrations for days

On Thursday Americans observed and celebrated July 4th, our official national holiday. But the Fourth of July is one of those holidays that can go on for days.

If it falls on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday, we usually count the entire weekend as part of the holiday and most likely we’ll include the Monday after, as well. When the 4th falls during a work week, we stretch the celebration to include the nearest weekend, or maybe the weekends on either side. Got to have a weekend, you know. We Americans really love our weekends.

July 4 is the day we celebrate our independence from England. Some of the founders of our eventual country composed a document declaring the various colonies were no longer legally bound to Great Britain. It was kind of like a divorce. Sometimes divorces can be amicable. Sometimes they can be messy. Our declaration of independence turned into a big, drawn-out fight. Lawyers were involved.

On the other hand, Canada, another British colony, had an amicable divorce from Great Britain. The two political entities mutually agreed to split up, and agreed the separation would become official on July 1, 1861. This is observed as Canada Day. July 1 is curiously close to July 4, but maybe that’s not so surprising considering July 1 is often the date when new laws go into effect. I find it something of a coincidence, however, that 1861 is the same year the United States went to war against itself. The Southern half wanted a divorce from the Northern half. This attempted divorce also was a tragic, drawn-out fight.

One could argue that July 4, 1776, is simply a convenient date upon which to hang the moniker “America’s Birthday.” A “Committee of Five”—John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Robert Livingston and Roger Sherman —was tasked by the Continental Congress to write a Declaration of Independence. Jefferson and the other four consulted, and, as time was of the essence, from June 11 through June 28, Jefferson wrote the first draft in isolation.

The committee members read and revised it and a completed version was declared on July 2. Two days later some members ratified it on July 4, 1776. But the document wasn’t signed by the entire Continental Congress until August 2. So it was decided on June 11, 1776, to compose a Declaration of Independence, and the final version was ratified on August 2 of the same year. I guess July 4 seemed like a reasonable compromise date.

Of course, If we hadn’t declared and eventually won our independence from England, it’s possible we Americans would still be writing dates as “4 July” than “July 4,” as the British and most of Europe do. Personally, even though it might seem more logical to write “day-month-year,” I am kind of glad we chose to go with “month-day-year.” Call it my American contrariness.

Today, July 6, 2024, many people will be celebrating their July 4 holiday with families and friends. The themes will be red, white, and blue. They will share cook-out meals and covered dishes. They will play games and share stories, and in the evening they will ooh and ahh over fireworks displays perhaps accompanied by patriotic music.

It is a good thing, I think, to have some leeway as to when, where and how we celebrate our National Holiday. It is also a good time to remember all our country’s many gifts as well as its past and present messes. May we all give thanks for our gifts and work together to clean up our messes.

Happy Birthday, America.

Norman Knight, a retired Clark-Pleasant Middle School teacher, writes this weekly column for the Daily Journal. Send comments to [email protected].