“Why do we celebrate the Fourth of July?” my 6-year-old niece asked me.
We were by the swimming pool. It was the perfect afternoon. The sky was Technicolor blue. The smell of Kingsford smoke was in the air. In the distance some hapless teen with a mullet haircut was attempting to shoot a bottle rocket from a well-known orifice of his body.
At first, I wasn’t sure how to answer my niece’s question. At least not in a way she would understand.
After all, this particular American holiday is a grandiose thing. How do you describe to a 6-year-old the significance of Old Glory, Purple Mountains Majesty and the inexpressible splendor of Dale Earnhardt Sr.?
“Well, sweetie,” I said. “That’s a good question…”
But then I sort of drew a blank. Why DO we celebrate the Fourth?
I suddenly realized I know less about this American holiday than I thought I did. In fact, one could say that I don’t know Shinola about the Fourth of July.
And apparently I’m not alone. Because I conducted an informal study wherein I asked students in Mrs. Anderson’s Sunday school class why we celebrate this uniquely American holiday.
Here are some answers I received:
John, 11, said, “It was the French or something.”
Eilene, 9, “That’s when we won the war against Mexico. No wait. I mean China.”
Benji, 9, “Because that’s when we do the fireworks.”
Ashley, 12, “We celebrate this holiday because in 1812, we signed a Treaty of Paris, and it just became a thing.”
And my favorite answer of all comes from Landon, age 8, who answered with the utmost sincerity when he said: “It’s when Diana Ross made our flag.”
So all this got me thinking. Exactly how much do my fellow adults know about the Fourth of July? I posed the same question to grown-ups.
Pamela, 32, “Well, the Fourth of July is our nation’s literal birthday, when all those guys signed the Consitution.”
Anders, 63, said, “It’s America’s birthday. Everyone knows that. The Pilgrims and all that.”
Emily, 21, “It’s the anniversary of our nation, when the big war finally ended in Germany.”
Robert, 39, “I can’t remember which battle we won. The Revolution, maybe? All I know is that our nation is going to be 230 years old.”
So we had some work to do.
Because the Fourth of July is not the date of a famous battle. Neither does it mark the beginning of the Revolutionary War, nor the ending. The Revolutionary War started on April 19, 1775 and ended September 3, 1783.
Neither is the Fourth of July the date of the writing of the Declaration of Independence, which was written between June 11 and June 28, 1776. The Declaration wasn’t signed on July 4, either. It was signed on August 2.
Similarly, the Fourth has nothing to do with the Constitution, which was penned September 17, 1787. And no, July Fourth is not George Washington’s birthday. It is, however, the birthday of President Calvin Coolidge. Also, Geraldo Rivera.
The reason we celebrate this date is straightforward and simple.
On July 4, 1776, the 56 members of the Second Continental Congress officially adopted a document that confessed high treason against Great Britain.
It was a document the 13 colonies had been pleading for. A document that would change global history.
It was a humble manuscript, engrossed on animal skin, which took Thomas Jefferson 17 arduous days to draft. A declaration.
A document whose second paragraph reads, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…”
But the reason I personally celebrate this holiday is deeper than a sheet of parchment. I don’t celebrate because we are the most powerful nation, or the most economically prosperous, or the country with the highest funded military.
I celebrate the Fourth of July for one simple reason:
Because I love you. Plain and simple.
You see, being an American means that we live in a place where you and I are equals. Not metaphorically, not philosophically, but literally. It says so on our founding document.
You matter as much as I do. This is true not only because it was written in the most beautiful English prose, by a deft hand. It’s true because it’s true.
So I celebrate because, no matter who you are, no matter what you believe, no matter where you come from, no matter which language you speak, or who you marry, or what kind of wild stuff you post on social media, you’re my brother. You’re my sister. And I love you dearly.
And even though we don’t always get along, even though we aggravate each other, you and I are on the same side. Our ancestors died proving it. And Thomas Jefferson put it in writing.
So happy 246th birthday, America. And may God bless Diana Ross.