Happy 4th July – Independence Day

By Sue Whiteman

My first recollection of any reference to The Fourth of July, was many years ago when my mother took me to see the film South Pacific.  I was only eight years old and even at that young age I was captivated, filters were used to change the colours of the beautiful tropical islands where the film was set and it was breath-taking.  I still vividly remember Nurse Nellie Forbush of the United States Navy played by the actress Mitzi Gaynor singing and dancing on a hot, white sandy beach.  Nellie falls in love with a middle-aged plantation owner.  She lets all her friends know that she has fallen in love with a wonderful guy and is feeling “as high as a flag on the Fourth of July”.  The significance of this date didn’t mean much to me at the time, but the story of love and romance stayed with me long after the film was over.


Each year on the Fourth of July also known as Independence Day, Americans gather to celebrate this historic event.  The tradition of celebrating this day goes back to the 18th century and the American Revolution.  Before 1776, the United States of America was not a country.  It was divided into 13 individual states and called the British Colonies of the British Empire which meant they were ruled by the King and Parliament of Great Britain.  The revolution was caused mainly by the British who wanted to impose greater control over the colonies and make them pay for its protection during the French and Indian War (1754-1763).


By the 1770’s many colonists were angry because they had no self-government and could not make their own laws.  They were paying high taxes to the King and British government who offered no representation in return.  With the French and Indian wars over, many colonists saw no need for soldiers to be stationed in the colonies, they were further angered when an act was passed through Parliament requiring them to provide barracks and supplies to the British troops.  Britain needed money to pay off its war debts and believed it had the right to tax the colonies.


The Declaration of Independence, a historic document which was drafted by Thomas Jefferson, stated that everyone in the United States had the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The government must listen to its own people.  The colonies were tired of being ruled by Great Britain and they wanted to become their own country.  A meeting held in Philadelphia on 2nd July 1776 by the Continental Congress saw the legal separation of the 13 colonies from Great Britain and two days later the colonies claimed their independence, this event eventually led to the formation of the United States.  Every year the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia is tapped (not rung) thirteen times in honour of the thirteen colonies which had become free and independent states.


The people of America celebrate the Fourth of July as the birth of American Independence and it’s also the biggest holiday of the year.  Families gather together with friends and relatives to host or attend picnics and barbecues.  Decorations of streamers, balloons and clothing are often coloured red, white and blue to match the American flag.  Parades are held during the day and areas such as parks and town squares come alive at night with spectacular firework displays.


Unfortunately, Independence Day celebrations will be very different this year than in previous years. Although the United States is slowly starting to re-open, events are being cancelled ahead of time because of the coronavirus. This means a return to mass gatherings of thousands of people is still a long way off.  Lives are still being put at risk and the lockdown restrictions are dependent on the individual states of America.