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10 June 2016

Celebrating American Independence Day

If there’s one thing that Americans do particularly well, it’s a big celebration. As Brits, we tend to be slightly more low-key when it comes to public holidays, unless it’s a Royal Wedding or equivalent, where the bunting suddenly pops up. But for Americans, between Thanksgiving, Halloween, Presidents’ Day or even Christmas, the tendency to ‘go big’ when it comes to celebrating permeates the national psyche. Few holidays exemplify this more than Independence Day on 4th July.

Emily Norval is a London-based journalist covering a range of topics including fashion, retail, travel and lifestyle. She has written for both national and international publications and enjoys frequent travel as part of her work. 

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Perhaps it’s the fact that American culture itself seems so well-tailored to a party – certainly beers, burgers and BBQs are better prone to a good time than the more restrained British tea and cake. Whatever the reason, celebrating Independence Day is a fantastic opportunity in the annual calendar to get in to a party spirit, even for us Brits (from whom the holiday actually marks the USA’s ‘independence’!)

In the UK, there are plenty of ways to celebrate along with our friends ‘across the pond’ and it’s a particularly good time to get clued in about some of the history behind the day itself.

American Flag on Independence Day

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In History…

4th July marks the anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776, which separated the Thirteen Colonies (the original British colonies which first settled in North America) from Great Britain. Those Thirteen Colonies became the first ‘United States’. The Declaration of Independence includes some of the most famous words in modern history: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” What makes 4th July celebrations particularly special, is that they don’t just mark a political milestone in the history of the USA, they celebrate these principles and the ideals on which the country was built.

US Festivities

Unsurprisingly, Independence Day is a significant day in American politics, with politicians often taking the opportunity to appear at public events and show off their patriotism. With this year’s celebrations falling right in the middle of the election year, there will no doubt be a heavy focus on the candidates. It’s also one of the busiest travel periods of the year for Americans, with attractions like Walt Disney World generally heaving with visitors.

Famously, Independence Day is often celebrated with fireworks displays in the US, and particularly famous events include the Macy’s fireworks display in New York City. Chicago also holds fireworks over Lake Michigan, St Louis over the Mississippi River, San Francisco over its famous Bay and of course, the National Mall in Washington D.C. holds a spectacular display. US military bases also celebrate with a “Salute to the Union”, with a gun salute for every state in the union (that’s fifty in total!).

Statue of Liberty

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Generally, a lot of Americans use the excuse of the national holiday to gather their families together and celebrate at home. Barbecues and picnics are particularly popular, given the weather in July. Local parades are also a popular means of celebration, with some like the Bristol Fourth of July Parade in Rhode Island having taken place from as far back as 1785!

Celebrating In London And The Rest Of The UK

Believe it or not, there’s actually plenty of ways to celebrate Independence Day in the UK, with Brits getting in on the action with American-themed menus and parties, as well as surprising amount of history to explore.

If you’re in London, start the day off with a visit to Benjamin Franklin House at 36 Craven Street. America’s Founding Father lived there for nearly sixteen years while mediating the tense politics between Britain and America. Cake and champagne will be on offer at the house on 4th July to celebrate the occasion. There is also an option for a Benjamin Franklin walking tour, to discover more connections between the famous American and London (available to book via the website).

When it comes to dining out on the day, you can’t get much more American than T.G.I Fridays, where the interiors are all themed around famous US landmarks. You could also try an authentic American smoky barbecue at the Red Dog Saloon (locations in Shoreditch, Soho and Clapham) or burgers and hot dogs at The Diner (locations around London). Any US-themed restaurant worth its salt is likely to be hosting some kind of offer or event on the 4th, so it’s worth booking in advance.

For a bit of authentic American history, head to The Mayflower pub in Rotherhithe after dinner, the oldest pub on the Thames and the original mooring point of the Pilgrim Fathers’ ship ‘The Mayflower’ which first sailed to America from London in 1620! You could also try a cocktail at the American Bar at the Savoy Hotel, which is one of the oldest surviving genuine American bars in London. Be sure to book ahead and reserve that necessary accommodation.

Celebrating around the rest of the UK is also surprisingly easy, with some of the biggest Independence Day celebrations having taken place last year in Liverpool. 2016 will see the first Independence Day Fair and BBQ taking place at the American Museum in Bath, which is well worth a day trip for anyone interested in American history and culture.

Celebrating Independence Day in the UK

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Marking The Occasion At Home

Getting the family together is a key part of celebrating Independence Day for a lot of Americans, so why not join in the action with your own and host a 4th July themed party? For true authenticity, a barbecue is a must (even with the unpredictable British weather) with the full works – hot dogs, burgers, ribs and chicken wings. Mac ‘n’ cheese, fries and chilli are fellow necessities, along with the quintessential American Apple Pie.

Red, white and blue decorations will ensure the patriotic theme can’t be missed, and you could even make your own Star-Spangled Banner. Round the day off with a few fireworks and some classic American tunes from the likes of Bruce Springsteen or Elvis and you’ve got yourself a true flavour of Independence Day.

Independence Day Party

Image Credit: iStock.com/LeeAnnWhite

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