The Fourth of July is almost unique among American holidays in that it is difficult to scoot it forward or backward to provide three-day weekends. Politicians are not yet called on to unleash their oratory and set off fireworks to celebrate the Sixth of July or sing the praises of the Glorious First.
Their speeches continue to fill the air on America's traditional birthday. These patriotic addresses are of such long standing that in 1859 Artemus Ward mocked them with his own Fourth of July oration at Weathersfield, Conn.
"You will excuse me if I don't prase the early settlers of the Kolonies. People which hung idiotic old wimin for witches, burnt holes in Quakers' tongues and consined their feller critters to the tredmill and pillery on the slitest provacashun may have been very nice folks in their way, but I must confess I don't admire their stile. . . . There was no diskount, however, on them brave men who fit, bled and died in the American Revolushun. . . . G. Washington was abowt the best man this world ever sot eyes on. He was a clear-heded, warm-harted, and stiddy goin man. He never slopt over! The prevailin weakness of most public men is to SLOP OVER! . . . They git filled up and slop. They Rush Things. . . . They git on to the fust popular hobby-hoss whitch trots along, not caring a sent whether the beest is even going, clear sited and sound, or spavined, blind and bawky. Of course, they git throwed eventooally, if not sooner. . . . When they see the multitood goin it blind they go Pel Mel with it, instid of exertin theirselves to set ir right. . . . That wasn't George's stile. He luved his country dearly. He was a human angil in a 3 kornered hat and knee britches, and we shant see his like right away. . . . "
It is not only the Fourth of July oration that is tradition. It is also the Fourth of July picnic. In 1826, a writer in the Washington National Intelligencer asked whether America's 50th birthday was to be observed "in the usual way, that is, by frying chicken, firing away damaged powder, or fuddling our noses over tavern wine?"
No answer was forthcoming, but if it had been it would probably have been yes. Fried chicken, potato salad, cole slaw, corn pudding, biscuits and relishes and endless cakes and pies have managed to spread their way across America's ethnic heritages, superceding even New England's salmon and peas and the West's barbecue as the meal most Americans associate with the Fourth.
Like the old-time suppers, the picnic is most often communally assembled, with the person hosting America's birthday party suggesting what everyone bring. The Fourth of July is no time to fear being corny. It's a day to drape everything in red, white and blue, arrange a reading of the Declaration of Independence, and make sure that everyone has a packet of sparklers.
We owe it to the human angil in a 3 kornered hat and all those men who fit, bled and died.