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The basics
THE USA: Once you arrive

Celebrating Independence Day in America

Learn about the history and tradition of Independence Day (Fourth of July) in America, including popular activities, foods and a bit of the history.

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For international students, the celebration of the Independence Day is a feast of American culture and history, specifically the nation’s independence from the British.


What does Independence Day stand for?

On July 4th 1776, amidst the American Revolution, members of the Second Continental Congress adopted the final draft of the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. This proclamation was a historic milestone not only in the United States but also around the world as it ushered in an era of popular democracy, freedom, and equality before the law. Years on, it is this event which is commemorated as the national day of the United States, a day of great pride amongst Americans.


Americans will more commonly refer to the day as the ‘Fourth of July’.


What to do for fun on 4th of July?

Every Fourth of July has become associated with outdoor activities, including historical pageants, parades, airshows, picnics, fireworks, baseball games, watermelon-eating contests, and trips to the beach. Fourth of July parades are common across the country, with a range of entertainment from cheerleaders, people in fancy dress (often with a historical theme), bands, and inflatables. In large cities like Chicago and New York, these parades and festivities can be rather grandiose and take over entire sections of the city.


The end of the day is usually marked by a firework display as the sun sets, a must-see for students from abroad! One of the most notable is the Macy’s show on the Hudson River in New York City – in fact, the 2009 display was the largest firework display in American history! In picturesque cities such as New York or Chicago, a romantic and exciting way in which to view the display is to take a ferry or river cruise - if you can get through the crowds and secure a seat!


Lots of the time, people find it very frustrating elbowing their way out in millions of viewers for a good spot. Therefore, as a student, grabbing a couple of beers (if you’re 21 years old or over) and climbing up to the rooftop of the dorm building with some friends may just be the perfect way to enjoy the fireworks and celebrate the night (just be careful). Of course, this is only the beginning of the night as parties and social gatherings go on into the middle of the night (so don’t expect a peaceful sleep if you’re trying to get to bed early).


This is a public holiday in the States so many offices and workplaces will be closed.


As well as the historical significance, the Fourth of July national holiday is also a time for family reunions mixed in with recreational activities. However, international students shouldn’t miss out on the celebrations either!


What can international students do on 4th of July?

Those international students who are not American and are away from their own family can gather with other students from abroad to enjoy the day together and celebrate everything they’ve enjoyed about living in the States. You can meet for a meal (though many places will be closed for the holiday).


You might also tag along with an American friend and their family to celebrate with them. Having been away from your family for a while, you may well find that you could do with being in a family atmosphere for a day. You’ll find that many Americans will be more than happy to accept a foreign national into their home for the holidays like this one, and to educate them about the history and traditions involved.


What foods to eat on 4th of July?

Picnics and BBQs are the most common activity on Independence Day, so you can expect lots of meat dishes including burgers and hotdogs. There will usually be vegetarian options provided too if you don’t eat meat, but if you are attending such a gathering, you should indicate this to the host/s. The usual desert of choice is apple pie, an American favourite (hence the popular phrase, ‘as American as apple pie’).


Related articles:

Find a course in the States and you can enjoy Independence Day in person

Learn more about student life in America

Study in the USA


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