Independence Day is now a few weeks past. Yes, I know this post is a bit out of date, but it’s been rumbling through my head and has to get out. We celebrated in our usual manner: the grandparents came over, and we all enjoyed hamburgers and hotdogs, then, way after bedtime when it finally got dark enough, the kids and I headed outside to set off a batch of rather tame but nonetheless beautiful and exciting fireworks. Purchasing the fireworks is a big part of the celebration, as the kids (including the big kid named “Dad”) enjoy walking up and down the aisles of the fireworks “megastore”, painstakingly selecting the best set of fireworks that will stay inside our predefined dollar limit and keep us within the legal limits of our city, while fantasizing over the truly big stuff.
It’s all fun, and the kids look forward to it for months. For the record, the family favorite remains the smoke bombs, primarily because they are accessible and not-scary even to the youngest. And they make lots of good smelly smoke that gets in our clothes and gets Mom just the right amount exasperated. As we were finishing, I looked and listened around the neighborhood and extended neighborhood. In just about every direction people were setting off fireworks. Most of them really big ones – big rockets and artillery shells that lit up the sky just like the city show that we never go to. (The city shows are just too late and too crowded for us with the little ones.) Anyway, I see it all, and I think of all the grill out and parties, all of the paid holidays taken, and especially all of the alcohol consumed. And I look at us, and our little stack of fountains and sparklers and the like. And I wonder, “What are we celebrating here?”
Are we really celebrating our nations independence? Are we really taking time to be grateful to live in a free country where we elect our own leaders and speak our mind and live our faith. Or are we just taking advantage of a paid day off and doing those things that our culture tells us are “traditional” for the day? I’m not trying to be cynical, but I am reminded of the standard complaint of Christmas, that it is “too commercialized”.
Well, I don’t think Christmas is becoming “too commercialized”. Independence Day is certainly not particularly commercialized, but it suffers from the same malady that Christmas suffers from. The same one that New Year’s Eve suffers from. The same one that Halloween and Thanksgiving suffer from.
When was the last time you went to a Veteran’s Day parade, or a 4th of July Parade? When was the last time you went to a cemetary on Memorial Day? Some people still do, but most do not. When I was a kid, virtually everybody went to the parades. They shut down Main Street. Nowadays most towns don’t have a Main Street to shut down, but that’s another story.
Holidays have become (or are becoming) just an excuse to indulge, and a way to liven up our indulgence by doing it in a way we don’t indulge on the rest of the year. People party and get drunk all year, but on Halloween, they party and get drunk in costumes and do it in houses with spooky decorations. People grill out all summer, but on July 4 they do it on a work day and shoot off fireworks. People overeat all year, but on Thanksgiving they overeat on a big turkey with stuffing and cranberry sauce and watch Snoopy make popcorn.
Even the days we don’t get off work have become days to indulge. Saint Patrick’s Day is a day to drink green beer and wear green clothes and pretend to be Irish. Valentine’s Day means candy and chocolates and fancy restaurants (and expensive jewelry). Fat Tuesday becomes a day to pig out, though most people forget about fasting on the next day.
We live in a world consumed with self-gratification, and our holidays have become extensions of that. None of us are immune to it, certainly not me, but when you recognize it, it all becomes a bit hollow. It doesn’t mean that next year I won’t buy those fireworks again: the magic in the kids eyes when a really good fountain erupts in our driveway is too good for me to give up. But I will find someway to better embrace the meaning of the holiday, so we’re not just enjoying a day off work.