Happy Birthday America! Let’s Blow Stuff Up.
I’ve always maintained that Thanksgiving is the best holiday. No religious obligations, no wasteful gift giving, plenty to eat, plenty of football, who could ask for anything more? Well, if you live in the northeastern part of this country, then the one complaint you could register would involve the weather. Let’s face it, Thanksgiving indicates that winter is almost upon us. However, there is a holiday that includes many of the advantages of Thanksgiving without the frigid temperatures, and that would be none other than America’s birthday, July 4th!
Yes my fellow Americans, our nation is now 239 years young! There is much debate in today’s overly politicized climate over how well we are actually aging. There are those who say 239 is the new 119 1/2 , but that’s probably just wishful thinking brought to us by those “Baby-Boomers” who don’t want to grow old. (In the interest of full disclosure, I was born in 1964 so I am literally the last of the Baby-Boomers. But since I arrived at the tail end of this generation, my memories weren’t formed by campus demonstrations so much as they were defined by making money on Wall Street.)
July 4th, like Thanksgiving is a national holiday. Most public institutions are closed. It’s a day to be with your family, celebrate America, picnic, eat lots of potato salad, and either gather to watch colorful explosions, or take it upon yourself to create mayhem and destruction. As much as we’d like to believe we are celebrating America, in a twisted way, we are actually celebrating China, You all remember China, don’t you? They’re the ones who invented fireworks, along with paper, gunpowder, printing, and the compass.
Most of the fireworks that people enjoy are made in China, just like our Apple products. I would also point out that some of our delicious “lead-based” toothpaste is produced in China. In fact, you could say that our “frenemies” from the east must really love helping us celebrate our national birthday. At least that would probably help explain all of that pesky hacking they do into our computer systems. They just want to know more about us so they are aware of what Americans really want.
As I stated earlier, the 4th of July is a day to picnic or barbecue with family. Hamburgers and hot dogs are the traditional American cuisine that most people look forward to on this all-American holiday. There’s the other standards including baked beans, corn-on-the-cob, pasta salad, watermelon, and the aforementioned potato salad. Potato salad has become one of the most versatile side-dishes known to man. Consider potato salad in all of its starchy incantations:
Standard, with lots of mayo and celery.
“Baked” potato salad, with cheese and bacon and chives, almost like a cold “Baked Potato”
“Egg-potato salad”, or what some call “upstate” potato salad. I despise this one, but some love it
German potato salad. This one is made without mayo. They say that Otto von Bismark wouldn’t have even considered unification without first getting a guarantee from the other Germanic city-states that German potato salad would be kept in the “Reich”.
Pasta salad, the gaudy cousin of potato salad, takes on literally a limitless amount of different forms in today’s July 4th celebrations. The problem is that it only comes in one size, Ginormous! You can’t make pasta salad for two people. It’s always a crowd-pleaser though. People have been known to take three different varieties of pasta salad on their paper plates at July 4th picnics.
My love of America stretches over several different varieties of pasta salad. (You Tube)
Once the picnic has been ingested, there is still one great tradition left that makes America one of the best countries in all of North America….Fireworks!!! For many years, New York was practically a barren wasteland when it came to the legal purchase of fireworks. However, for the first time, small firework sales have become legal outside of New York City. Of course, we can’t compare with such stalwarts like Pennsylvania and South Carolina. One can wander into one of the many distributors in these states, and literally purchase enough fire power to take on the Taliban. The Hoffman’s have always enjoyed their fair share of pyrotechnics, and any trip to the aforementioned states would usually involve a quick stop at the local arsenal, a.k.a. fireworks emporium. A recent sortie into Pennsylvania netted a cache’ that looked a lot like this:
Bottle Rockets and Roman Candles are fun without being too destructive. Some people though need a little more “fire-power”, and choose such potent potables as the “Block-buster” or the “M-80”. These can be fun, especially if you attach them to a toy soldier the way my brother David and I used to do. Of course, if you hold onto these a little too long, you could be spending the 4th of July in the emergency room, so proceed with caution.
The safest way to enjoy fireworks on July 4th is at a show such as the one in Albany or Clifton Park at the Clifton Common. These events are slices of Americana, and are must-sees if you have children. The firework demonstrations typically last about 15 minutes or so, and they are collectively greeted by a series of “oohs” and “aahs”. My personal favorite are the “popcorn” ones, the ones that sparkle and make a popcorn like sound. I have been known to both “ooh” and “aah” at the sight of such pyrotechnics.
Hey now, check out the scene that is Albany on July 4th. Oooohh….Aaaahh! (Times Union)
So, how did we come to celebrate such a day as this? Historically, July 4th is of course the day in which our nation declared its independence from those bloody British. The Declaration of Independence was adopted by the 2nd Continental Congress on this date, and a new nation, the United States of America, was born. The writing of the Declaration was performed by Thomas Jefferson as most Americans can tell you. The idea to actually declare independence was the brainchild of one, John Adams. Adams however was not the one who made the motion to the rest of the Continental Congress. It was actually Richard Henry Lee who made the motion. Adams knew if he made the motion, many other members of Congress would have been against the idea since they had a collective dislike for Adams. They could hardly be blamed since not only did Adams have a very high opinion of himself, he also wasn’t shy when it came to informing others how stupid and ill-informed they were. Lee therefore, who was far more popular with his peers, made the motion which Adams quickly seconded. So, what does this have to do with fireworks?
Although there was sporadic celebrating that included fireworks in the days after the Declaration was signed, fireworks were officially used the very next year on July 4th, 1777 to celebrate our independence. (Although, truth be told, we weren’t very independent just yet.) The Declaration of Independence is a monumental if sometimes misunderstood document. It is not a set of laws as some would like to believe, but instead, it is the foundation of our laws and values. While Jefferson was a firm believer in the wall of separation between church and state, he believed we were born with rights given to us by a “creator” or higher power. He was not a fan of using force, but he proclaimed that people have the right to overthrow a government that attempts to deny our inalienable rights. He wanted to call for an end to the slave trade in the Declaration, but was himself a slave-owner. Despite these inconsistencies and even the occasional bit of hypocrisy, the Declaration of Independence remains one of the great documents in man’s quest for freedom and representative government. At the very least, it is certainly worth taking time out of our busy lives to stop and consider this great document, and what it has represented to us as a people for the past 239 years If nothing else, it is a good excuse to make your way over to the deli-counter in your local grocery store for a little mayo-infused potato or macaroni based salad. USA! USA!