Is it just fireworks and cookouts?
Everyone knows that that Independence Day (aka the Fourth of July) celebrates the date in 1776 on which the Continental Congress formally adopted the Declaration of Independence. You probably didn’t know, however, that Independence Day has only been an official nationwide holiday since 1941. Massachusetts was the first state to make it an official holiday within its borders in 1781.
Nevertheless, Americans have been celebrating their declared independence from the British monarchy unofficially since 1777. Parades, concerts, bonfires, picnics, even ceremonial funerals for King George III have evoked cheers and patriotic feelings. But until 1941, these festivities were primarily regional or local affairs, and celebrations varied from state to state.
In the small remote towns scattered throughout the Appalachian Mountains, music and dancing were common ways to celebrate, whether it was for the nation’s independence or a local wedding. But one Fourth of July tradition among rural towns was the act of “anvil shooting.” Part fireworks display and part celebratory madness, shooting the anvil was always a special event. And it’s still practiced today in some towns and at The Museum of Appalachia in Norris, Tennessee, every July fourth.
Another Independence Day tradition is the cakewalk. Now a children’s game, it originated in the South as an African-American slave dance that mocked the master’s elegant European-style dances. In its simplest form, today’s celebratory game has children walking in a circle over painted numbers. When the music stops, the kids step on the nearest number. When a number is drawn from a corresponding basket, the winner receives a cake!
Small Town Celebrations Today
While fireworks and cookouts are still fairly common, many small towns have special events. Gatlinburg, Tennessee, for example, puts on an extravaganza it calls “the first July Fourth parade in the nation.” Its claim is warranted because the parade starts at midnight every Fourth of July. The parade draws nearly a hundred thousand onlookers; so if you decide to go, stake out your spot early.
Throughout the southern Appalachians, you can find baking competitions, eating contests, races, BBQs, children’s games, face painting and more. There are also sports games, arts and crafts markets, talent competitions and live music. In addition to the usual parades, cookouts and fireworks, you may also find a live reading of the Declaration of Independence, maybe even by a person in full period costume.
No matter where you go in the United States, you will find activities and festivities. Americans love to get outdoors and love to eat. Independence Day gives us all a chance to do all that while celebrating the day our country was founded. Travel to any small town in the mountains, and see how they celebrate for yourself.
Photo credits: greenway.com