It is time once again for Americans to celebrate Independence Day. On July 4, 1776, Americans declared independence from Great Britain when fifty-six brave men signed the Declaration of Independence and made their pledge: “And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”
Too many Americans forget – or never learned – that July 4th is more than just a day for watching fireworks and parades, for barbecues or camping. They do not realize that there is a great difference between thinking of this special day as merely “Fourth of July” and thinking of it as “Independence Day.” I wrote about this difference last year, and you can read my thoughts on this subject here.
Fireworks, parades, barbecues, camping, etc. are all ways we can celebrate Independence Day. There is nothing wrong with any of these activities because they are all wonderful celebrations in their own way. Erma Bombeck knew the importance of such activities. “You have to love a nation that celebrates its independence every July 4, not with a parade of guns, tanks, and soldiers who file by the White House in a show of strength and muscle, but with family picnics where kids throw Frisbees, the potato salad gets iffy, and the flies die from happiness. You may think you have overeaten, but it is patriotism.”
As important as fireworks and parades are, there is something more important to include in our Independence Day celebrations. The most important thing that we must remember is the purpose of our celebration. We celebrate the Fourth of July because it is the day we declared our independence. We celebrate liberty and freedom.
We must remember that freedom, liberty, and independence are not free. Thomas Paine lived in the founding days of our nation, and he understood this fact as evident from the following statements. “Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom, must, like men, undergo the fatigue of supporting it.” “He that would make his own liberty secure, must guard even his enemy from opposition; for if he violates this duty he establishes a precedent that will reach himself.” Thomas Paine knew the value of freedom, liberty, and independence, and we must help our families to gain this same knowledge.
Prager University has prepared a short ceremony that is “designed to help us remember what the Fourth of July is really about, and to remind ourselves how fortunate we all are to be Americans.
“For many of us, the Fourth of July is a day for barbecues, baseball, shopping, and fireworks. There is nothing wrong with any of this. But in 1776, our founders didn’t sign the Declaration of Independence (and then go to war) only so that later generations would spend July 4th at the department store. They knew Americans needed to be educated and informed in order for our hard-won liberty to survive. As Thomas Jefferson put it: `If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.’
“As Americans, we need to reconnect to our heritage, channel the wisdom of the Founding Fathers, and rediscover the meaning behind our country’s creation. And we need to do it every year. That’s the point of observing the Fourth of July: To help us remember why this country was founded, and to help us transmit that collective memory to the next generation.”
Prager University suggests that we use ritual to help teach the rising generation about the founding of our nation and why the Founders declared independence. Prager University created the Fourth of July Declaration Ceremony and patterned it after the Jewish Seder. (“Seder” means “order” in Hebrew.)
“For thousands of years, the Passover Seder has helped Jews around the world to remember that they are descendants of an enslaved people who were liberated by the mighty hand of God. The Founders of the United States (including George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and others) were all well-versed in the Bible and knew the story of the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt. They viewed their break from England as a new exodus; so much so that Franklin and Jefferson wanted the seal of the newly-formed United States to depict the Israelites escaping across the Red Sea.
“Even though that design was not chosen, the original historical inspiration still remains. Like the Passover seder, the Fourth of July Declaration Ceremony can be a powerful ritual that helps us transmit our love for this country to our children and grandchildren.”
I like the idea of developing a tradition such as suggested by Prager University. I like the idea of a Declaration Ceremony. Each family could take the suggested ceremony and make it your own celebration ritual. Prager University promises that “the Fourth of July will be more than just another barbecue or fireworks display. It will become the kind of day it was meant to be: a celebration of the birth of our exceptional country, and a way of showing gratitude for the gift of liberty that has been bestowed upon us all.”
The rising generation will never understand the difference between the Fourth of July and Independence Day unless we teach them. I like the idea of a Declaration Ceremony and encourage you to add some ritual to your Independence Day celebration.