A Look Back: Fourth of July celebrations meld civic and social elements

John Yacavone, of Meriden, N.H., waits for the start of the 38th annual Fourth of July parade in Plainfield, N.H., on July 4, 2019. As Uncle Sam, Yacovone has led the parade for the past six years. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

John Yacavone, of Meriden, N.H., waits for the start of the 38th annual Fourth of July parade in Plainfield, N.H., on July 4, 2019. As Uncle Sam, Yacovone has led the parade for the past six years. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. valley news file — Geoff Hansen

The Rotary Clubs of Lebanon and Lebanon-Riverside baked nearly 200 pies for the Great American All-You-Can-Eat Pie Buffet at the Upper Valley Senior Center in Lebanon, N.H., on Saturday, July 4, 2015. (Valley News - Sarah Shaw) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

The Rotary Clubs of Lebanon and Lebanon-Riverside baked nearly 200 pies for the Great American All-You-Can-Eat Pie Buffet at the Upper Valley Senior Center in Lebanon, N.H., on Saturday, July 4, 2015. (Valley News - Sarah Shaw) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. valley news file — Sarah Shaw

A finale of constant fireworks light up the sky at the Storrs Hill Ski Area to the delight of the crowd at the base in Lebanon, N.H., on Wednesday, July 4, 2018. (Valley News - August Frank) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

A finale of constant fireworks light up the sky at the Storrs Hill Ski Area to the delight of the crowd at the base in Lebanon, N.H., on Wednesday, July 4, 2018. (Valley News - August Frank) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. August Frank

From left, Kailey Blake, 9, of West Fairlee, Vt., John Boutin, of West Fairlee, Natalie Lounder, of Canaan, N.H., Mary-Ellen Blake, of West Fairlee (in background) and Mary Bombard, of West Fairlee, throw candy to the crowd from the J.J. Blake Excavating float during the Orford-Fairlee July 4th parade in Fairlee, Vt., on Sunday afternoon, July 4, 2010. (Valley News - Patrick T. Fallon) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

From left, Kailey Blake, 9, of West Fairlee, Vt., John Boutin, of West Fairlee, Natalie Lounder, of Canaan, N.H., Mary-Ellen Blake, of West Fairlee (in background) and Mary Bombard, of West Fairlee, throw candy to the crowd from the J.J. Blake Excavating float during the Orford-Fairlee July 4th parade in Fairlee, Vt., on Sunday afternoon, July 4, 2010. (Valley News - Patrick T. Fallon) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. valley news file photograph — Patrick Fallon

Will Gross, 7, left, and Marina Liot, 12, both of Lebanon, N.H., and other children from the crowd were enlisted to help keep the Patriot Flag from touching the pavement at it was folded in Lebanon on Monday, July 4, 2011. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Will Gross, 7, left, and Marina Liot, 12, both of Lebanon, N.H., and other children from the crowd were enlisted to help keep the Patriot Flag from touching the pavement at it was folded in Lebanon on Monday, July 4, 2011. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley news file — James M. Patterson

From right, Alicen Sanville, 9, of West Lebanon, N.H., her brother and sister, Mike Sanville, 12, and Brittany Hathorn, 14, wave glow lights while they wait for the beginning of fireworks by Route 10 and the Connecticut River in West Lebanon, N.H., on July 4, 2007. (Valley News - Ikuru Kuwajima) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

From right, Alicen Sanville, 9, of West Lebanon, N.H., her brother and sister, Mike Sanville, 12, and Brittany Hathorn, 14, wave glow lights while they wait for the beginning of fireworks by Route 10 and the Connecticut River in West Lebanon, N.H., on July 4, 2007. (Valley News - Ikuru Kuwajima) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Ikuru Kuwajima—Valley News - Ikuru Kuwajima

By STEVE TAYLOR

For the Valley News

Published: 07-02-2023 9:14 PM

John Adams famously said the true founding of the United States of America came on July 2, 1776, not on July 4, because on July 2 the Continental Congress passed by majority vote the Declaration of Independence. On the fourth, the delegates signed the document. Adams felt so strongly that, until the day he died, he refused invitations to celebrate anything on July 4.

But Adams’ stubbornness about the true date is more than offset by his advocacy of marking the adoption of the declaration with grand nationwide celebrations. In a letter to his wife Abigail, he wrote that he wished for, what else? — July 2 — to be celebrated by succeeding generations as the “Great Anniversary Festival.”

Well, July 4 won out, and the proposed observance Adams laid out would become the model for the nation’s Fourth of July celebration for the ensuing 2½ centuries — plus.

“Pomp and parades, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations from one end of the continent to the other,” Adams prescribed.

Were he around in 2023, Adams ought to be mighty pleased with how his wishes have been carried out. And here in the Upper Valley, we manage to come pretty close to hitting all his targets, though maybe we’re best at parades and illuminations and not quite so strong when it comes to guns, bells and bonfires.

There’s another dimension of the Fourth of July that Adams didn’t include in his list of celebratory activities: social times. The gathering of family, friends and neighbors has become as important a part of July 4 as the parades and fireworks, made possible by modern-day transportation and mobility. Motor trips of hundreds of miles for a Fourth of July get-together would surely amaze Adams — or even our forebears of a century ago.

An entire body of cultural traditions has grown up with the Fourth of July, which Congress made an official national holiday in 1870. By the late 19th century, July 4 was becoming as much a social event as a civic one. Family leisure time activities and readily available fireworks became the norm.

Since World War II, the Upper Valley has seen some fine Fourth of July community traditions develop that speak to the blending of the civic dimension, such as parades, and the social aspect, as with barbecues, pancake breakfasts and strawberry shortcake fests. Orford and Fairlee jointly mount a parade with chicken barbecue featured, as do Woodsville and Wells River. Hamburgers, hot dogs and shortcake follow Plainfield’s parade along with music. Other towns have similar activities that have taken hold, thanks to the hard work of community-minded people and the support of folks who come to expect that their town will be doing something, just like last year.

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Family and neighborhood celebrations likewise have become traditions without which the Fourth is just not the Fourth.

Then you need to consider fireworks, or as John Adams called them, “illuminations.” Larger Upper Valley towns have been offering bigger and bigger displays for years now, and those who live in a place without a show trek to neighboring communities where they do, itself a tradition for many.

Steve Taylor lives and farms in Meriden and contributes occasionally to the Valley News.