By: Barnali Bose, Editor-ICN Group
KOLKATA: July 4 is synonymous with August 15 in the Colonial History of the world. The first one dated back to 1776 and the other much later to 1947. After a long struggle for independence, the death knell was sounded for two British colonies, one in the Western Hemisphere and the other in the Eastern Hemisphere. United States of America and Independent India thus emerged from the ashes of colonialism to rise as two Independent nations.
Just as we, in India celebrate joyous occasions with displays of fireworks, in the United States, Independence Day is incomplete without glimmering displays of fireworks.
It is believed that the tradition was the brainchild of the Founding Fathers. Luminary explosions of all shapes and colors, particularly red, white and blue on July 4 dates back to almost American independence itself.
It would be interesting to trace how it came to be a part of the Independence Day revelry.
In the summer of 1776, during the first months of the Revolutionary War, on July 1, delegates of the Continental Congress met in Philadelphia.They were debating over whether the 13 original colonies should declare their independence from Britain’s Parliament.
That night, news arrived that British ships had sailed into New York Harbor, posing an immediate threat to the Continental troops commanded by George Washington.
On July 2, delegates from 12 colonies voted in favor of independence. New York would follow suit on July 9 and the motion carried. On July 3, the Congress revised a draft of the declaration composed by Thomas Jefferson.
On July 4, after making a total of 86 mostly small changes to Jefferson’s draft, the Congress officially adopted the Declaration of Independence.
Some impromptu celebrations marked the declaration’s first public readings on July 8,1776 in front of local military troops in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
The first organized celebration of Independence Day however commenced in Philadelphia on July 4, 1777. It came to be solemnized with pomp and parade, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and Illuminations all over the newly declared independent United States of America.
Armed ships and galleries in the river were drawn up before the city, with bright decorations displaying the colors of the United States.
After each ship’s cannon fired a 13-gun salute in honor of the 13 colonies, the festivities continued, including an elegant dinner, a military demonstration and a performance by a Hessian band.
“The evening was closed with the ringing of bells,” the Evening Post reported, “and at night there was a grand exhibition of fireworks which began and concluded with thirteen rockets on the Commons, and the city was beautifully illuminated.”
In the years to come, various cities continued the tradition of celebrating independence, holding picnics, parades, speeches and fireworks displays for the occasion, though Boston was the first to designate July 4 an official holiday (in 1783).
Fireworks became more widely available by the time Independence Day celebrations really took off after the War of 1812. Public safety concerns led to cannon and gunfire being gradually phased out of celebrations leading to the rising importance of the use of fireworks.
In 1870, the Congress established Independence Day as an official holiday. “The American Fourth of July is the greatest event the maker of firecrackers knows,” according to historian James Heintze recorded in The Fourth of July Encyclopedia.
Every July 4 fireworks-related accidents, some causing injuries and a few even deaths are reported. As such a ban on certain fireworks has been imposed in different places. Despite these safety concerns, Americans spend somewhere around $1 billion on fireworks each, July 4 allowing for a nationwide celebration of independence.