This past year has been full of reflection on how and why we’ve always done the things we do. Holidays have been no different. As things are starting to normalize again, take the opportunity to be thoughtful and intentional about your Independence Day celebrations. It’s a learning opportunity for you and your children that can be fun too. Here are a few helpful suggestions to strike the balance between tradition and reflection.

Why Do We Celebrate?

As more and more of us come to terms with the complicated history of the United States, celebrating July 4th can seem more and more fraught. On the one hand, we have celebrations and barbecues and fireworks. On the other, parents often wonder how to teach their children about what patriotism and protest can look like in a world that is more invested in the truth of history.

After all, many in this country don’t experience it in the same way. Whether they’re a new immigrant or many generations rooted. Whether they are Black, Brown, white, or multiracial. It’s important to not hide from these truths—especially if we want to uphold American ideals. Freedom for all really should mean freedom for all.

Know The History

Take some time perhaps leading up to the 4th to make sure you and your children know the truth of history. What did Independence look like for the colonials? What did it look like for the enslaved? A great resource is a passage from one of Frederick Douglass’ speeches: The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro.

You can also discuss Juneteenth with your children. Juneteenth, or Liberation Day, celebrates when those who were enslaved in Texas found out that they were emancipated. It’s celebrated on June 19th each year.

If you live in the Northeast, you can also visit a Revolutionary War historic site. Some of them even have reenactments on the 4th.

Going beyond surface level with your children can make the celebratory parts of July 4th more significant.

Engage in Community Action

See if there’s a rally for a local cause. Help people register to vote or contribute to a charity or another non-profit organization. If we uphold generosity and community as American values, the 4th is a great day to participate in that with your children. Social responsibility can start with just a step.

Consider Your Community

This is a holiday about our country as a whole, so it only makes sense to be considerate of your local community when you celebrate. Here’s how.

  • If you’re setting off your own fireworks, consider the time and day of the week. Not all people (and pets) enjoy hearing the constant sound of explosions. Also, you could use fireworks that are rich in nitrogen. These produce less smoke but can be just as pretty.
  • Consider the amount of trash you’re bringing into public spaces. If it’s a lot, bring your own trash bags and haul them out with you to dispose of at home. Raccoons are the only ones who love overflowing trash cans.
  • Don’t get more food than you need to reduce your food waste.
  • If you’re stopping by a grocery store, corner market, or restaurant on the holiday, remember to be extra kind to those working—you’re on holiday but they aren’t.
  • Holidays mean crowds. Most places will be busier than usual, so be sure to prepare yourself and your family for sharing public spaces and being more considerate of everyone around.

Visit Somewhere New & Unique

You could also opt for something completely non-traditional. Avoid the parades and firework displays. Instead, hop over to a small town or a landmark you haven’t seen yet. Or even a national or state park! Wandering on the path you haven’t explored can clue you and your family into a piece of Americana you may be less familiar with.

However, you and your family choose to celebrate this year’s Independence Day, know that there are many right answers. You don’t have to perfectly explain everything. Making the effort goes a long way. Have fun and be safe!

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