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The history of July 4 celebrations

Variously known as the Fourth of July and Independence Day, July 4th has been a federal holiday in the United States since 1941, but the tradition of Independence Day celebrations goes back to the 18th century and the American Revolution.

The very first Independence Day celebration took place not on July 4 but on July 8! On that day in 1776, the first celebration took place in Philadelphia. The Declaration of Independence was read aloud, city bells rang, and bands played. The following year, Philadelphia’s celebration moved to July 4 - the actual date of the adoption of the Declaration.

The custom eventually spread across America to communities both large and small, where America’s independence was celebrated with parades, picnics, games, military displays, speeches, and fireworks. Observations throughout the nation became even more common at the end of the War of 1812 with Great Britain.

Today, July 4 is celebrated in much the same way, especially here in the nation’s capital. At the National Archives, thousands come to see the original Declaration of Independence, and hear it read aloud on the steps. A grand parade winds its way through the city each year, and the night is capped with a patriotic concert and fireworks on the National Mall.

Did you know?

Three of the first five U.S. presidents died on July 4. John Adams and Thomas Jefferson died in 1826, the 50th anniversary of the country’s birth. Adams’ last words were “Thomas Jefferson still survives.” James Monroe, the fifth president, died five years later in 1831.

The Liberty Bell has not been rung since 1846, to avoid cracking it. To mark the quintessential day, every July 4 it is symbolically tapped 13 times.

The holiday is also officially celebrated in Denmark each year since 1912 at Rebild National Park. A group of Danish Americans bought 200 acres in 1912 to have a place to celebrate the American holiday with their families and other American expatriates.