4th of July: Connecting us to History

Day of celebration offers opportunity for families to reflect on history

4th of July means fireworks but also is a time for families to reflect upon the historical significance and meaning of this patriotic holiday

The most patriotic of all American holidays, the 4th of July, is a day filled with history and tradition. With its roots reaching over 200 years back, the holiday’s origin is well known by all – it’s the day when the Declaration of Independence was signed, sparking a revolution and the creation of the United States. Today, we remember the historical significance of the day with parades, readings, and – of course – lots of fireworks.

Community celebrations of the 4th of July will take place all across western Massachusetts, and bring with them not only celebration but also opportunities to learn about our country’s history, and to reflect on the meaning of freedom. Beginning with a morning filled with parades and running right straight through to the end of the very last fireworks show, the region is jam-packed with 4th of July events.

In Williamstown, the Williamstown Theater Festival will offer a reading of the Declaration of Independence, as well as a reading of the British response to the declaration. Beginning at 10am, the reading will take place in front of the Williams College Museum of Art and precedes the town’s parade (which begins at 11am). While young children will likely have trouble understanding (and sitting through) the reading, older students can use the performance as an opportunity to reflect on the importance of the words included in the declaration. Freedom likely had a very different meaning to the signers of the Declaration of Independence than it does to most of us today, due to the vastly different context in which we live our lives. Understanding the reasons for the colonies’ desire for freedom from Britain can help students not only to better understand how the United States was formed, but can help them to appreciate the hard work, determination, and strong vision of those who worked to help the revolution come about.

Old Sturbridge Village offers a more experiential learning experience to families, incorporating 4th of July celebration and learning into the village’s regular learning opportunities. The village will host music and performances on the common, and families are invited to participate in the citizens’ procession which, lead by the martial band, is a parade-on-foot filled with lots of cheering and appreciation for our country. Families can even make their own tri-cornered hats and don a DIY version of one of Revolutionary-era America’s biggest fashion trends! Old Sturbridge Village’s 4th of July celebration ends with fireworks, serving as a metaphor for the burst with which the colonies pushed for independence from Britain (of course, it was an almost slow motion burst, as things moved much more slowly in those days).

Spending the day at the village, immersed in an era of long ago, children can imagine what the role of freedom might have been in the lives of Americans in days past. Consider what freedom means to you today, and compare and contrast with what you imagine it might have meant for a family during the late 18th or early 19th centuries – how have changes in culture, industry, technology, and economics changed what freedom means? What do you think freedom will mean for future generations?

In addition to experiencing community celebrations, families can sink their teeth into history together at home, as well. Just for fun, sign your own name to the Declaration of Independence and print out a copy, thanks to the National Archives! However, if your name goes onto the document, it must be backed by a solid understanding of what signing the Declaration of Independence means!

Photo credit: Asimo Duck

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