When Did July 4th Become A National Holiday?

Jun 29

When Did July 4th Become A National Holiday?

Early Fourth of July Celebrations

In the pre-Revolutionary years, colonists had held annual celebrations of the king’s birthday, which traditionally included the ringing of bells, bonfires, processions and speechmaking.

By contrast, during the summer of 1776 some colonists celebrated the birth of independence by holding mock funerals for King George III, as a way of symbolizing the end of the monarchy’s hold on America and the triumph of liberty. Festivities included concerts, bonfires, parades and the firing of cannons and muskets usually accompanied the first public readings of the Declaration of Independence, started immediately after its adoption.

Philadelphia held the first annual commemoration of independence on July 4, 1777, while Congress was still occupied with the ongoing war. George Washington issued double rations of rum to all his soldiers to mark the anniversary of independence in 1778. In 1781, several months before the key American victory at Yorktown, Massachusetts became the first state to make July 4th an official state holiday.

After the Revolutionary War, Americans continued to commemorate Independence Day every year, in celebrations that allowed the new nation’s emerging political leaders to address citizens and create a feeling of unity. By the last decade of the 18th century, the two major political parties–Federalists and Democratic-Republicans–that had arisen began holding separate Independence Day celebrations in many large cities. The tradition of patriotic celebration became even more widespread after the War of 1812, in which the United States again faced Great Britain.

July 4th Becomes A National Holiday

In 1870, the U.S. Congress made July 4th a federal holiday; in 1941, the provision was expanded to grant a paid holiday to all federal employees. According to Title 5 of the US Code, neither Congress or the President has the authority to declare a holiday that must be enforced by the states – states declare which holidays they choose to observe. Federal holidays are only applicable to Federal employees and the District of Columbia.

Falling in mid-summer, the Fourth of July has since the late 19th century become a major focus of fun activities, parades, concerts  and a common occasion for family get-togethers, often involving fireworks and outdoor barbecues.

The most common symbol of the holiday is the American flag, and a common musical accompaniment is “The Star-Spangled Banner,” the national anthem of the United States.

Share Your Story

What is your favorite thing to do on the 4th? Do you have any family traditions? How will you celebrate this year?

Leave us a comment and share your story with us.

(h/t history.com)


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