The Fourth of July has always been one of my favorite holidays. Who doesn’t love staying up late on warm summer evenings and watching beautiful displays of light in the night sky? I never really stopped to think about the more traditional, patriotic, meaning of the holiday until I was an adult and married to a British man. Now that I think of it, he did own a red coat when I married him.
What do you do when your family’s blended cultures clash on a particular holiday?
Is Independence Day a triumphant celebration of the American people over the tyrannous British rule, or is it a somber day of remembrance for the savage uprising of a colony? It’s hard to sell the latter here in the midwest. I’m not really sure what those t-shirts would look like.
Being raised in a particular country, one tends not to question traditions until much later in life. Then you grow up, move out into the great big world, and start to see those same ceremonies through the eyes of the rest of the planet. When my husband and I first started dating we planned to watch the fireworks display along the riverfront in St Louis, where we were living at the time. I was excited to show my new British beau the splendor that is Independence Day in the U.S.
Part of that splendor included binge watching Fourth of July-themed movies. Because what else did we have to do before kids?
We watched Born on the Fourth of July, Independence Day, and The Patriot. Despite my husband’s clearly unimaginative insistence that President Bill Pullman would never fly his plane into an alien spacecraft to save the world, we had a great time. I felt like I was giving him the real American experience of the Fourth of July.
Then we watched The Patriot, Mel Gibson went all crazy-eyed, and things got awkward. The British were portrayed as evil, conniving, backstabbing, child-murdering, villains who needed to be slain by the great American hero, Mel. Yet no matter how completely contrived the plot was, I challenge anyone not to get a little choked up when Mel is giving one of his revenge speeches. The man is famous for a reason.
Watching that thinly veiled piece of patriotic propaganda was the first time we’d fully appreciated that the approaching holiday was celebrating the victory of my country over his, and that it might be considered a little weird for him to be joining in the festivities. It seems like an obvious realization now, but at the time I was just excited about the fireworks.
So we did what all new couples do when faced with a potentially uncomfortable bump in the relationship road: we laughed it off. I dressed my husband head-to-toe in red, white, and blue. He practiced chanting U – S – A in a perfect American accent. Fun was had by all and no one was the wiser.
However, now that we have children we will have to think very hard about how to explain to them some of the more delicate themes underlying many of the holidays we often celebrate without a second thought.
When my oldest son was three he asked why we have fireworks on the Fourth of July. My husband graciously explained that a long time ago America was ruled by the British and on the Fourth of July, 1776 the Americans told them they wanted to be in charge of themselves. As a toddler, he found this to be a perfectly reasonable explanation of the holiday; after all, he was mostly concerned with the fireworks anyway.
But soon the day will come when his questions get a bit more complicated. Will he still see the yearly display of patriotism and colorful bursts of light with the same innocent wonder that he does now? Or will he feel uncomfortable with his dual heritage the way his daddy did all those years ago?
Only time will tell. In the meantime we’ll continue to dress in our red, white, and blue flag t-shirts and wave sparklers like we always have. After all, it’s not really about the British anymore, is it? It’s about BBQs, fireworks, and parades. It’s about families and fun. That’s our kind of holiday, no matter where we’re from.
Of course, he hasn’t experienced his first Guy Fawkes Day yet…
How would you handle conflicting cultural holidays with your kids?