What's Behind Fourth of July Symbols
Every year in early July, we dress up our homes and get together with friends and family to barbecue and watch fireworks all in the name of America's independence. Many of the things we do on Independence Day are traditions we have never thought much about. Here's some history behind the symbols and traditions of the Fourth of July.
Stars & Stripes
The reason why we decorate with stars and stripes is simple; they represent the American flag. There's a star for every state of the union on a field of blue, as well as 13 red and white stripes to represent the original colonies. According to USFlag.org, there was no real reason those colors were chosen for our nation's flag when it was adopted in 1777. However, the colors were borrowed to design the Great Seal (our nation's coat of arms) and assigned meaning by Charles Thomson: white signifies purity and innocence; red represents hardiness and valor; and blue indicates vigilance, perseverance and justice
We have been setting off fireworks almost as long as we've been a country. The first pyrotechnic display for the Fourth of July was held on July 4, 1777, in Philadelphia. It was part of a Founding Father's grand plan for celebrating our nation's birth. President John Adams sent a letter to his wife, Abigail, stating that July Fourth should be revered with "Pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports," as well as "bells, bonfires and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other from this time forward forever more." When you light up the night with candles and firecrackers, you can thank President Adams for all that fun on the Fourth.
Uncle Sam has been around since the early 1800s. According to history.com, the beef that was sent to troops during the War of 1812 was packed by a man named Sam Wilson. Wilson stamped all the packages "U.S." for the United States, but soldiers decided the abbreviation stood for "Uncle Sam" to honor the meat packer. It wasn't until the 1860s that cartoonist Thomas Nast put a face to the name with the red, white, and blue clothes and popularized Uncle Sam as a personification of the United States. Nast was also responsible for the elephant and donkey that represent the Republican and Democratic parties, as well as the modern Santa Claus.
Statue of Liberty
Though the Statue of Liberty was erected more than 100 years after the United States declared its independence from Great Britain, it has long been a symbol of freedom. It was a gift from France to represent the two countries' united effort to maintain freedom in the United States. The sculptor who designed the statue admired the Declaration of Independence and wanted the statue to be associated with it. He had the date "July 4, 1776," inscribed on the tablet. To further associate the statue with the Declaration of Independence and its inalienable rights of "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness," the statue was named Liberty Enlightening the World. It later became the first view of the United States immigrants had as they traveled to the U.S. in search of a better life.