Gen. George Washington paraded his troops at 6 o'clock in the evening so they could hear it read out; in South Carolina, 9-year-old Andrew Jackson declaimed it to some of his illiterate countrymen; and what did Thomas Jefferson do on the day his Declaration of Independence was adopted? He bought a thermometer and used it to record the temperature four times. And, as if that wasn't celebration enough, he also paid for seven pairs of women's gloves, both events duly recorded in his account book.
Following in the footsteps of the forefathers, Americans commemorate the Fourth of July in diverse ways -- attending a parade, setting off a firecracker, sitting in traffic on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge.
But celebrate we do, until we are red, white and blue in the face and though some like to take their tradition straight -- each year saying "Happy Birthday, U.S.A." in exactly the same old way -- others grow bored with the yearly rote and look for ways to slide a few new steps into the annual dance.
They are the ones you will find sponsoring a patriotic picnic, a red-white-and-blue box supper where each couple contributes a container, splendidly decorated in patriotic hues, which holds a hearty picnic for two.
The couples are reshuffled (cut the names of an appropriate number of states in half, putting one half in one jar, the other half in the other and let the couples draw and match up) and then everyone bids on the various boxes, with the proceeds going to some previously named charity. Beer, wine and soft drinks -- as well as red, white and blue napkins -- are provided by the party-giver.
Hosts also are the ones who rewrite history by asking each guest to come bearing a document: the Declaration of Independence as it might have been written if we had been in the hands of the Founding Mothers instead of the Founding Fathers.
Such hosts will vary the potato-salad, fried-chicken, cole-slaw routine by providing a separate table full of sparkler desserts. These can be as fiery as baked Alaska (though that is a risky dish on a hot summer's day) or cre~pes suzette or more sensibly created by making a trip to a specialty food store and stocking up on silver or gold drage'es, or red, white and blue sprinkles.
To indulge in flag-waving, make a cheesecake in a rectangular pan and, using raspberries and blueberries, decorate it with a picture of the American flag.
You also could make a three-tier layer cake, frosting the bottom layer in red, the next in white and the top in blue, and poking real sparklers onto the top layer, setting them ablaze as you bring the cake in.
Or, if the Fourth-of-July meal is a picnic, make little hobo-packs of cookies, using red, white or blue bandannas.
If you'd like to dip into the melting pot and bring out dinner, celebrate the Fourth with fireworks foods, serving up tongue-tingling Mexican dishes spiced with red peppers, or the kind of Chinese dishes that always appear on menus with warning asterisks (* VERY HOT) or Indian curries.
These not only show the culinary journey we've made since the days when dinner-table diversity consisted of serving the salt pork sliced instead of diced, but it tests the theory that hot foods are better in hot weather than cool ones.
You don't have to change the menu. You can change the celebration instead: Rather than parade, rather than watch charcoal snakes wiggle out of their pellets, smearing the sidewalk a powdery gray, rather than making sparkler arcs in the dying light, turn the Fourth of July into an artistic occasion by asking all guests to come bearing a new national anthem, written in one of the styles that America has tapped its toes to in the years since Independence.There could be a marching anthem, a ragtime anthem, a rap anthem, a big-band anthem ("Swing and sway with the U.S.A."), an acid-rock anthem ("Come on Cornwallis, light my fire"), and wouldn't the problems with King George make for a broody blues tune? Someone young and without restraint could be assigned to do the punk anthem.
But the most creative guest should be given the chore of producing a country & western anthem. Everyone knows that any good country tune contains references to Mama, a broken heart, doing time in the slammer, the lonely whistle of a train, faithless women and too much booze. All that and a revolution should make for an anthem everyone would stand for.