What is your favorite holiday?

I bet most of you answered Christmas or Thanksgiving. I certainly understand why both of those holidays are so wildly popular, but my favorite holiday is unquestionably Independence Day.

Of course, I am a little biased when it comes to this holiday. That is because I am a “Yankee Doodle, do or die, a real live nephew of my Uncle Sam born on the Fourth of July.” And yes, I have heard all the jokes that come with it, like “you must get a real bang out of that’ or “oh, you’re a real firecracker.”

Jokes aside, I did have some pretty amazing birthday parties as a child. Each year my parents would meet my aunts, uncles and cousins at a local park for a barbecue and potluck dinner. We would have hamburgers, hot dogs, baked beans, my mom’s beloved potato salad and there was probably an apple pie lurking around somewhere. It doesn’t get much more All-American than that.

My cousins would head off to play in the summer sun. Depending on which park we went to, we could enjoy an Old West playground complete with a covered wagon; dinosaurs; or a pirate ship where someone may have ended up the walking the plank. We ran wild and so did our imaginations as these settings came to life for us.

Once we were worn out, the whole family headed back to my house to rest and recover for the nighttime festivities. My cousins would play with sparklers in the front yard and imagine they were torches lighting our way on an Indiana Jones expedition around the corner, through the alley back up the block to home. Then, we would conclude the day by sitting on the front step and watching the fireworks display from the minor league ballpark a few miles away. I still treasure those memories all these years later.

However, as I grew older, the fantasy of my birthday parties was slowly replaced with an understanding of what the Fourth of July symbolizes to the United States and Americans as people. Officially known as Independence Day, the federal holiday commemorates the signing of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, stating the United States would no longer be subject to British rule. A victory by the United States in the Revolutionary War cemented the formation of the new nation.

It is a stirring tale of throwing off oppression to ensure the basic freedoms we enjoy today. As a result, there is a strong sense of patriotism associated with the Fourth of July. But what is patriotism?

Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines patriotism as a “love for or devotion to one’s country.” Although this definition seems pretty simple to understand, I believe there are a few things people need to keep in mind when discussing patriotism. First, it is a sense of honor or devotion to your country, not to any one individual or group. Second, patriotism is not an action one takes, but rather the reason one takes action and the emotion that action creates.

Joining the Armed Forces is considered one of the most patriotic duties a person can perform. However, the sense of patriotism does not come from the act of enlisting in a given branch of the military. Instead, the patriotism exists because that person loves their country so much they are willing to potentially sacrifice his or her life in defense of the country they love.

Similarly, I do not believe it patriotic just to acknowledge the singing of the National Anthem or recite the Pledge of Allegiance. Those are symbolic gestures that create a feeling of patriotism when you carefully consider those words and feel the pride they stir within you as an American.

Personally, I feel a surge of patriotism every time I see a brilliant blue sky dotted with cottony white clouds creating an idyllic backdrop for an American flag rippling in a gentle summer breeze. To me, that is one of the most beautiful sights I can imagine.

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