Independence Day, or Fourth of July as it is also known, is a day that comes with traditions and expectations. It is definitely a day for fun and celebrations, for friends and family to get together (and hopefully get along) and good food and drink. Specific customs vary from family to family and place to place. However, there are a few common threads: watching fireworks is one of them; having a barbecue is another. American flags as decorations are pretty much a must. If you are in a part of the US where you see fireflies at night, they might be the best fireworks of all – they are pretty magical if you have never seen them before.

It is easy to forget that there is actual history attached to why Americans celebrate Independence Day on July 4. This is the anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence in 1776, which is when the 13 American colonies declared independence from the British Empire. However, I have never gotten the impression that the historical aspect of this day is at the forefront of the celebrations. Sure, the American flag will be omnipresent – on paper plates and napkins and decorations, but that seems to be about it.

So what should you expect from Fourth of July festivities? Can you celebrate as a new arrival to the country? Short answer to that last question is yes! If you haven’t been invited to a party and are unsure of how to celebrate, check your local news sources to find out what festivities are going on in your area. Many places will have parades or arrange activities for children. And of course, find out if there are fireworks and when and where they are being held and then stake out a good spot to watch them.

My first Fourth of July experience is still my most memorable. Perhaps because of the novelty it presented, or perhaps because it was truly awesome and unexpected. My husband and I were newlyweds on our honeymoon, visiting my in-laws in California. It was my first time in California and the first time I met these in-laws. My knowledge about Independence Day was limited to the Bruce Springsteen song ‘Independence Day’ and that song really has nothing to do with the festivities that take place in the US on July 4.

The party started out as a pretty traditional affair: we barbecued, the guys drank beer and the women sipped white wine with ice cubes, while the kids threw balls and played games. There was corn and potato salad and Aunt Thyme’s apple crumble. American flags adorned napkins and plates. What I didn’t know was that this side of the family had a tradition of planning elaborate themed Fourth of July parties, complete with t-shirts for everyone and a number of games and challenges that everyone participated in, young and old, new to the family or not.

My husband’s uncle and cousin, who both have a taste for practical jokes, had spent weeks planning the games, making props, setting up obstacle courses and putting together teams. As a newbie, there was no doubt that I would get an extra dose of fun, just to make sure I was properly initiated into the family. I think the slip n’ slide was my true test and suffice it to say I made a proper fool of myself. Since then, I have been to many Fourth of July celebrations, and I have even hosted some for my family at home when I have been back for the summer. None of them have lived up to that first one.

By: Felicia Shermis

Camilla Degerth - citizen of the world
Being a multicultural family