Traditions around the Fourth of July

What is your family’s cultural traditions for the Fourth of July?

Grilling out
Photo by Herald Post, CC BY-NC 2.0

What is culture? One definition of culture is “the sum of attitudes, customs and beliefs that distinguishes one group of people from another. Culture is transmitted, through language, material objects, ritual, institutions, and art, from one generation to the next.” Often, people think of culture of a particular ethnic group. Everyone has their own way of going through life. This series of articles is to look at your own culture and those around you and maybe create some new traditions. By better understanding your own culture, hopefully you can understand and appreciate those around you with different traditions.

Many families celebrate mid-summer traditions around the Fourth of July holiday along with the birth of the United States. The heat of the summer, the long days and the celebration of the founding of the country all combine to make a great opportunity to relive family traditions or create new ones. When family and friends are together, it can also be a great time to ask individuals about how things used to be or how things have changed over time.

Michigan State University Extension suggests these thoughts and topics to get the conversation going.

Food, especially grilling, is popular on the Fourth of July.

  • Are there any special foods you always eat? Hot dogs? (Is there a particular brand?) Hamburgers? (Are there any secret ingredients?) Ice cold watermelon?
  • Does the family have a special way to keep cold foods at a safe temperature? One example is filling a canoe with ice and keeping all the cold foods in it.
  • Do different people do the cooking more than normal? Why is that?
  • Is there any debate over using propane versus charcoal versus wood for cooking? Have you ever done a taste-test to see if you could tell the difference?
  • Were there any foods that used to be served on the holiday that aren’t any longer? Does anyone have the recipes?

Parades and other festivals often happen during the holiday.

  • Are you, friends or family members in the parade? Have they been in the parade in the past? What role did they serve?
  • How has the parade changed over time? Has it gotten bigger or smaller or stayed the same? Why?
  • Does the parade have a Grand Marshall? If so, how is that person selected?
  • Does your family have a favorite spot to watch the parade?

Games and water activities are often enjoyed during the holiday.

  • Does your family participate in any yard games? Bocce, croquet, volleyball, others? When and how did those activities get started?
  • Does your family have a water balloon or squirt gun fight? Is there an age where folks stop participating in the water fight, or do the older folks play too?
  • Do you go to the beach or a pool? What games do you play there? Were there games that your family members used to play at the beach?
  • Were there any old-time ways to prevent sunburn or treat sunburn?

Fireworks are often used to celebrate the independence of our country.

  • Does your family go to a fireworks festival? Do you always watch them from a particular place?
  • Does your family buy fireworks? Did your family go out-of-state in the past to buy fireworks? Before 2012, bottle rockets and roman candles were illegal in Michigan. If your family did that, what do they think of the change in the law? Are there safety concerns?
  • Did your family do things with fireworks that would be considered too dangerous today?

Delve into your family’s culture and traditions in the summertime, and maybe start new traditions of your own to carry into the future.

This article was inspired by and adapted from the 4-H Folkpatterns curriculum:

To learn about the positive impact of Michigan 4-H youth leadership, citizenship and service and global and cultural education programs, read our 2016 Impact Report: “Developing Civically Engaged Leaders.” Additional impact reports, highlighting even more ways Michigan State University Extension and Michigan 4-H have positively impacted individuals and communities in 2016, can be downloaded from the MSU Extension website.


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