Expat Life

Being a Brit on Independence Day

Before we came to the States, I was aware of but had never celebrated nor thought much about, that American holiday that almost trumps Thanksgiving and certainly Christmas, July 4th – Independence Day.

Here in the States Independence Day is a big deal. It’s particularly prominent in New England and some of the surrounding states, due to the fact these were some of the thirteen colonies that America claimed independence from the British with back in 1775/76. The dates are dependent on which piece of Internet history you read.

The holiday is traditionally celebrated with bonfires and fireworks as well as foods that represent America and the colours of the American flag. The reason it’s celebrated in this way is because John Adams, a member of Congress during the time of Independence, and later 2nd president of the US, quoted:

“(Independence Day)…ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.”

Quote is taken from Wikipedia.

The tradition has been taken seriously from that point onwards. Apparently, Salem in Massachusetts (the neighbouring state to Connecticut) created some of the biggest bonfires across America, and in many parts of New England they still aim to keep to that tradition today.

Being a bonfire baby myself – born on November the 5th – I am particularly attracted to the spectacle of bonfires and fireworks, and so this holiday intrigued me.

So, for the Americans, and some of us Brits, what is Bonfire Night?

Back in 1605, Guy Fawkes was found guarding explosives to be used to blow up parliament and rid the country of King James 1. King James was a staunch Protestant, who wanted to rule Britain as a Protestant land. However, a select few, including Fawkes, disagreed and wanted Britain to be run by a Catholic. But, the plot was uncovered before it had a chance to come to fruition and Fawkes was hung for his attempted treason.

Strangely, it seems Guy Fawkes Night was celebrated in the US colonies just before the American Revolution but died out when the Revolution happened. I wonder if that’s why they use fireworks and bonfires to celebrate. I’m sure there are many who are more in the know about history out there who will be sure to correct me on that!

So how can I compare the two?

In some ways, for me, the reasons behind both Red Letter Days resonate with similar themes; the desire for freedom and the need to be true to oneself.

With the US, it was about gaining independence from Britain to live and run their land as they so wished. Guy Fawkes Night (or the Gunpowder Plot) is where Fawkes, amongst others, was battling for freedom to practice Catholicism.

Of course the times and battles that ensued were quite different, and it is likely naive of me in many ways to attempt to compare the two. Despite this, this day has reminded me that all over the world people are battling for freedom of some sort; either freedom to be themselves or freedom to live in a fair and just world.

Hopefully this weekend many will consider the lengths the Americans, the British, and the rest of the world needs to go to, to be truly able to ‘celebrate’ a future of freedom.

I don’t claim to be a historian, and perhaps this post will receive much backlash, who knows. But I felt a need to share my thoughts before I headed off to watch the beautiful fires in the skies and eat all that is red, white and blue.

Let me know what you think!

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