Memories, Borne on the Fourth of July
Most holidays are observed for the purpose of commemorating the past– its happenings and people– rather than occasioning a purely in-the-moment or prospective practice or event. (And even this latter sort of holiday, by its regular and repeated practice, likely would develop a retrospective aspect as the observation became ritualized and a tradition of active observamce built up. Sporting championships like Super Bowl Sunday or the World Series might be an example of this type of holiday.) “Commemoration,” what we do on most of our holidays, suggests an act of collective remembrance.* So stated, the practice of holiday observation has two aspects: remembering and acting. We remember the historical happenings that or people who merited designation of a special day and we do so through various acts of remembrance.
As applied to American Independence Day, observed on the fourth day of July due to the adoption of the Declaration of Independence by the Continental Congress on that date in 1776, the holiday directs our collective remembrance to the distant and recent past in consideration of those responsible for American independence. First, we should actively recall those fifty-six men who, along with their families, acted boldly with conviction and suffered because of it:
Next, we should remember those throughout the nation’s history, including its very recent history, who served the country in a wide variety of capacities, especially those who, in service, gave the ultimate sacrifice.
As for the action component, I think fireworks, parades, and a celebratory mood with family and friends, perhaps along with a reading of names, should do just fine. Happy 234th, America!
* I am away from my books and dictionaries at the moment, so this etymological breakdown is a matter of uninformed impression. While I’m at it, I might hazard a guess on “holiday,” which could be from “holy day,” suggesting a day of special reverence. A noted aspect of most of our holidays today is that they are governmentally recognized. The “holy day” reading could be a throwback to times when the only state-recognized holidays would have been those in accordance with the official state religion. As a final note, I am recalling the possibly British use of “holiday” simply to mean “vacation” without any special significance.