Culture Guide USA - July
July is a busy month in the United States – so get ready!
With summer in full swing, the beaches are open, sandals are being worn, and grills are hot. The season’s biggest movies arrive, dozens of music festivals open across the country, and baseball’s best players come together for their annual All-Star Game.
Without question, though, the biggest event of the month is July 4th, or Independence Day, when Americans celebrate the founding of their country.
Until the mid-1700s, the United States of America wasn’t actually a country at all – it was simply a collection of colonies under the command of the British Empire. In 1776, though, the people of those 13 colonies, refusing to be denied their basic rights to ‘Life, Liberty and pursuit of Happiness,’ officially declared their independence from British rule.
What we celebrate on the Fourth of July, is the adoption of that Declaration of Independence by the members of what was known as the Continental Congress. We commemorate the day with festivities from parades and fairs, to concerts and contests. And the party doesn’t stop until nightfall when we light up the skies with amazing firework displays!
So welcome to the special Independence Day edition of Culture Guide USA, where we’ll catch you up on and help you make the most of one of the greatest celebrations of the year in the United States!!
‘When in the course of human events…’ (Fast Facts about The Declaration of Independence)
Contrary to popular belief, The Declaration of Independence was adopted or ratified, not signed, by Congress on July 4th. It wasn’t signed until almost a month later on August 2nd.
Over 50 people signed the Declaration of Independence including colonial heavyweights like future president John Adams, patriot/brew master Samuel Adams, and Renaissance Man/genius Benjamin Franklin. While John Hancock was the first to sign The Declaration and may have the most recognizable signature on the document (it's certainly the largest), it was Thomas Jefferson who actually wrote the piece.
Amazingly, fittingly – and kind of eerily – both John Adams and Thomas Jefferson died on the same day: July 4th 1826, 50 years after the signing of The Declaration.
Go see The Declaration, yourself! The document is housed in the National Archives in Washington, DC. Check out our tour of The Washington Mall later in this Culture Guide for more information.
Independence Day and American History in Cinema
These July 4th – themed films provide just the right blend of history and entertainment to get you in the mood for the big day:
1776: Based on a stage musical, this film follows the members of the Continental Congress as they struggle to draft and adopt The Declaration of Independence.
John Adams: A great television miniseries following the life political and personal life of John Adam (Declaration signer and second President of the United States) and his integral role in the founding of the country. Good writing, great acting, very cool period costumes.
Schoolhouse Rock!: This series of animated, educational musical short films cover topics from Math and Science to Grammar. But, some of their best, and most entertaining programs, cover the history of the United States. Check out these videos for a brief, amusing background on The Declaration of Independence and The Revolutionary War!
The Patriot: Set in colonial South Carolina, Mel Gibson brings his indignation, national pride and wrinkly face to the battle fields of the American Revolution (the war between America and England which followed the colonist’s declaration of independence).
Independence Day: On July 4th, 1996, an alien race descended upon Earth with the intention of destroying human life and harvesting the planet’s natural resources…well, not really, but that was the plot of this incredibly entertaining film. Luckily, the President gave this great speech, and Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum saved the planet.
While every community in America celebrates The Fourth in their own way, here are some notable festivities to check out if you can:
New York City: Head to Coney Island on July 4th for the annual Nathan’s International Hot Dog Eating Contest and watch the world’s best competitive eaters consume as many dogs and buns as they can in ten minutes. Last year, reigning champ Joey Chestnut ate 62.
Boston: For almost 40 years, the Boston Pops Orchestra has put on the Fireworks Spectacular, combining a live concert with, well, spectacular fireworks display. Click here for tickets and more information.
Philadelphia: In Philly, where The Declaration was drafted and ratified, the party goes all week. Don’t miss the parade, food expo, film series or the Philly 4th of July Jam, featuring The Roots, Queen Latifah, Daryl Hall, Common, Joe Jonas and more
Washington, DC: The nation’s capital observes Independence Day with A Capital Fourth, a fantastic musical and firework celebration on the National Mall.
In a month celebrating the nation and its history, what better national park to feature in our Culture Guide than the one in the center of our nation’s capital?
Known affectionately as The Nation’s Front Yard, the National Mall is a stretch of lawn that extends over a mile between the Lincoln Memorial and the United States Capital. The surrounding area is home to government buildings, dozens of memorials and monuments, gardens and some of the country’s finest museums.
Given its location in the nation’s capital, the nexus of American politics, the Mall has been the site of some of the country’s most important and incendiary protests and rallies. Throughout the 1960s, during the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement, hundreds of thousands of citizens and activists led marches on the Mall in protest against war and racial discrimination. Martin Luther King Jr., one of the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement, delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
The Mall also plays host to a number of free events throughout the year including festivals, concerts, and outdoor movie series. The Smithsonian Folklife Festival featuring music, food and crafts runs from June 27th to July 1st and July 4th to July 8th. And if you’re looking for a place to spend Independence Day, it doesn’t get much better than DC.
So, whether you want explore a museum, take in a concert, or just enjoy a picnic on the grass, the National Mall is a must see.