National Mall, D.C.
Whether you mark the holiday with an annual family reunion, summer vacation to the beach or a small barbecue followed by fireworks, Independence Day seems to be celebrated in a ritualistic manner by almost all Americans. Everyone has specific traditions they adhere to each year, perhaps even more than other holidays.
Growing up, I never really stuck to one Fourth of July tradition, but my family and I always attended a barbecue (at our house or a relative’s), and watched the horizon explode with fireworks from my bedroom window. Living on top of a hill in Western Pennsylvania has its perks, especially on July 4, when you can see fireworks displays from three places from one vantage point.
Having been in D.C. for the past two summers, however, I decided that it was about time I started my own Independence Day tradition. I quickly discovered that the nation’s capital is the best place to do so.
Earlier in the week, I planned on attending the parade that went down Constitution Avenue, hoping to get a healthy morning dose of American patriotism. Instead, my friends and I decided on attending the parade in the Georgetown community of Palisades, located near the Mount Vernon Campus. Although I successfully woke up on Friday morning to catch the D6 Metrobus to Palisades, my friends did not.
While there was a multitude of American flags, and red, white and blue clothing, the Palisades parade was more of a community gathering than a national celebration. Although I was looking for a fantastic display of patriotism, in the end I was kind of glad I did not see one – I don’t think I could handle a morning overdose of “God Bless the USA” on what was going to be a very hot and long day.
The parade reminded me of my hometown’s Community Day parade, complete with local organizations, churches, preschools, libraries, garden clubs, political groups, minor celebrities, fire trucks and marching bands. Some might call it hokey, but I found it extremely enjoyable. From the large gathering of families and area residents along the MacArthur Boulevard parade route, I could tell my opinion was supported.
The Washington Scottish Pipe Band led the 37th Annual Palisades July 4 Parade, followed by a local Boy Scout chapter and an assortment of classic cars. The parade was as diverse as the community, with performances from the Metropolitan All Stars High Steppers, Alma Boliviana and D.C.’s Different Drummers.
This being Washington, political organizations and figures were well- represented in the parade. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D.C.’s congressional delegate, walked with supporters for D.C. statehood and voting rights. City council members Harold Brazil, Jack Evans and Phil Mendelson were also in the parade. Members of D.C. Statehood and Green parties marched with a giant District of Columbia flag. Former D.C. mayoral candidate Faith was there, too. With her bugle in hand, sitting precariously atop a car, the flag-swathed 78-year-old proudly announced her candidacy for president. President of what, no one really knows. Supporters of Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean marched in the parade with signs reading “Dean for America, the doctor is in.” One woman had her dog wearing a sign reading “My dog is for Dean.”
Dogs seemed to outnumber people at the parade. Spectators on the street sat with their “best friends,” while dogs were also featured in the parade.
After the parade ended around noon, I headed over to a friend’s condo in Virginia for the requisite July 4 barbecue. Only hamburgers were cooked, but we had a variety of desserts including butterscotch brownies, homemade blueberry pie and Rita’s Water Ice. Plus, what would the Fourth of July be without America’s favorite pastime – baseball? We had enough Red Sox and Yankees fans to make the conversation very lively.
Like parades, picnics are an all-too-rare occurrence in my life. I think it’s because I associate picnics with sprawling parks, and Constitutional Gardens just doesn’t do it for me. Sure, the Program Board and other GW organizations host barbecues on campus. But I, like many other students, attend them for the free food and ignore the sheer bliss that a picnic can be.
Sitting on the lawn and cooking burgers on a tiny grill in front of my friend’s condo is nothing compared to packing a picnic lunch complete with a woven basket and red-checkered table cloth. But far too often do I forget that you can eat outdoors, regardless of it being at an outdoor dining restaurant. It was hot outside, but it only added to the ambiance that is the Fourth of July.
It was nice to also to be in the company of friends with little drama involved. In the summer there are no classes to worry about and no tests to be taken. While everyone at the picnic has a job, they are all relatively stress-free. To me, it was strangely comforting.
Perhaps that is the best thing about being a college student and celebrating the Fourth of July in Washington – the lack of stress and responsibility to everyday life. If you choose to just to spend the day with close friends, then do so. If you choose to drink and eat a bit too much, pass out by 6 p.m. and miss the fireworks, then good for you. And if you choose to spend the day with all the visitors on the Mall – well, then you are really brave.
I ended my day with what is becoming my favorite Independence Day tradition – fireworks on the National Mall. I gathered up my blanket and set to face crowds of confused tourists. Luckily, the security checkpoint at 21st Street and Constitution Avenue was not crowded although it was almost 8 p.m. Thankfully the police officer there found no suspicious items in my purse. If only airport security could run this smoothly.
After an hour of shooing away the mosquitoes and watching people wade in the Reflecting Pool, the fireworks started with a bang. Watching from the grass on the south side of the Reflecting Pool, I had a great seat for the fireworks. The exploding shells were right overheard. Their colorful tails and sparkling ends lit up the humid, summer sky for over 40 minutes.
The fireworks display was more impressive than last year. Some of the fireworks even exploded on the ground, which I am sure wasn’t supposed to happen but still led the crowd to exude many “oohs” and “ahhs.” The booms rattled my eardrums, but the crowd was so quiet at times that I was able to hear “God Bless America” playing from the concert on the West Lawn of the Capitol.
As the song ended, the finale of the fireworks display began with a series of fireworks that I can only describe as waterfalls of light in the sky. It was beautiful. I, along with the crowd, could not help but applaud.
Last year I wrote in my journal that I started the day hating the country and ended the day by loving it. This year I was indifferent but proud as I celebrated America’s 227th birthday by beginning some July 4 traditions of my own