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Posts Tagged ‘July 4’

picnic-table

During my growing up years, the Fourth of July was usually celebrated at an extended-family picnic, attended by aunts, uncles, and lots of cousins. At least two tables were required for the hamburgers, hot dogs, numerous side dishes, homemade lemonade, watermelon, and Grandma’s pies and cookies.

But the highlight of the celebration didn’t happen until dark: sparklers and fireworks. What a delightful wonder to stare into a sizzling starburst and spin circles and figure-eights with a thread of light.

And then, after much painful waiting, the real show would begin. Fireworks.

A soft phoom alerted us to each explosion of color.

My favorite was a yellow-orange burst that would remain brilliant for several moments, as each spark gracefully drifted downward. The effect resembled a mammoth weeping willow tree, lit from within.

Independence Day celebrations on The Mall in Washington on July 4, 2008.

I wonder, how did the custom of fireworks become a tradition for Independence Day?

Here is what I discovered.

It began with founding father, John Adams, in a letter to his wife, on July 3, 1776. Just the day before, fifty-six patriots had signed the Declaration of Independence. Mr. Adams thought that would be the day the new nation would celebrate. Instead, it would be the day after, July 4, when the final wording of the Declaration was approved.

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Following, in bold print, is an excerpt of Mr. Adams’ letter to Abigail. The inserted comments are my own thoughts.

“The second day of July 1776 will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival.”

John Adams correctly predicted the importance of this event to Americans. The first great anniversary festivals occurred the next year in Philadelphia and Boston. Such commemoration caught on quickly throughout the thirteen colonies.

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“It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty.” 

Now that would be a worthy addition to our Fourth of July gatherings. Solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty might include prayers of thanksgiving and praise for our great nation, then asking God for his continued guidance and blessing upon America.

“It 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.”

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That word, solemnized, caught my attention. It means, “to celebrate or observe with formal ceremonies or rites.” Although Mr. Adams and other patriots would no doubt approve of family picnics and parties with friends, our choices of activities ought to be respectful of the Declaration and the lives lost to achieve and uphold our independence.

“You will think me transported with enthusiasm, but I am not. I am well aware of the toil and blood and treasure that it will cost to maintain this Declaration and support and defend these States.”

Again, John Adams’ words were prophetic. Eight long years of toil, from 1775 to 1783, were required for the colonists to achieve freedom from Britain. The blood of 25,000 patriots paid for that freedom and the treasure of 400 million dollars.

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Of those who signed the Declaration, nine died in the conflict, five were captured and treated brutally, several lost family members, twelve had their homes completely burned, and seventeen lost everything they owned.

“Yet through all the gloom I can see the rays of ravishing light and glory.”

Even with his vision of ravishing light and glory, Mr. Adams could not have imagined the growth of prosperity in America. No country on earth has enjoyed such rich and varied resources, provided such strong influence in the world, and so generously offered aid across the globe when needed.

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Then again, perhaps God did give Mr. Adams a glimpse into the future, when he wrote: 

“I can see that the end is worth more than all the means; that posterity will triumph in that day’s transaction, even though we [may regret] it, which I trust in God we shall not.”

Posterity has indeed triumphed, and John Adams was blessed to witness firsthand the beginnings of that triumph, as the thirteen colonies became a nation.  He helped negotiate the Peace of Paris, which ended the Revolutionary War. He served as vice-president under Washington, and became the second U. S. president in 1796.  Before his death on July 4, 1824, he witnessed the Louisiana Purchase and the annexation of eleven more states.

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  John Adams recognized that the principles which resulted in such triumph would never change:

“The general principles on which the fathers achieved independence were the general principles of Christianity. I will avow what I then believed, and now believe, that those general principles of Christianity are as eternal and immutable as the existence and attributes of God.”*

 Indeed. A republic such as ours cannot survive unless its citizens live by certain principles, including integrity, compassion, and personal responsibility. Such Christian principles cannot be legislated; they must come from the heart.

The ravishing light and glory John Adams declared for our nation can be achieved and maintained no other way.

God help us.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *    *     *

*This last excerpt from a letter to Thomas Jefferson, June 28, 1813.

(Art & photo credits: http://www.dianacarbonell.com; http://www.pinterest.com; http://www.ushistory.org; http://www.mentalfloss.com; http://www.theepochtimes.com; http://www.groundreport.com; http://www.discovernewengland.org; http://www.wikipedia.org.)

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