Have you ever wondered how the tradition of celebrating Independence Day with fireworks began? Well, the truth is fireworks have a very long and colorful history. Still, the tradition of using fireworks to celebrate July 4th actually dates back to the summer of 1776, during the early months of the Revolutionary War.
On July 1st, the delegates of the Continental Congress were debating whether colonies should declare their Independence from Britain’s Parliament and King George III. That night, they received news that British ships had sailed into New York Harbor, posing an immediate threat to the Continental troops under the command of George Washington.
On July 2nd, delegates from 12 colonies voted in favor of Independence, New York followed suit a little later on July 9th, and the motion passed.
On July 3rd, as Congress was revising a draft of the declaration written by Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, with great excitement, wrote to his wife Abigail stating, “the Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the history of America,” “I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding generations, as the great Anniversary Festival….It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one end of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.”
Although Adams wasn’t quite right about the date, his prediction has certainly come true.
On July 4th, after 86 edits to the draft, Congress officially adopted the Declaration of Independence. Although there were impromptu celebrations that accompanied the declaration’s first public readings, the first official organized celebration of Independence Day came on July 4th, 1777, in Pennsylvania. We have the following historical account of that celebration :
“About noon, all the armed ships and gallies in the river were drawn up before the city, dressed in the gayest manner, with the colors of the United States and streamers displayed.”
Each ship’s cannon fired a 13-gun salute in honor of the 13 colonies, followed by an elegant dinner, a military demonstration, and a performance by a Hessian band. “The evening closed with the ringing of bells,” as reported by the Evening Post, “and at night there was a grand exhibition of fireworks which began and concluded with 13 rockets on the Commons, and the city was beautifully Illuminated.”
That was the beginning of a tradition of celebrating Independence Day with picnics, parades, speeches, and fireworks displays that continued to spread even though Congress did not officially recognize the day as an official holiday until 1870.
We wish everyone a safe, happy and festive Independence Day Celebration!
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