Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Fourth of July

I feel compelled to write a post today to discuss the holiday, in terms of how it fits in with my attempts at living a more simple lifestyle. The holiday really has three different meanings to me: the historic meaning, the family functions, and lastly, it is my Dad's birthday.

While I recognize the symbolism of Independence Day in historic terms, it is really symbolic only, as July 4, 1776 wasn't really the key moment in our nation's history that most people think it is. Yes, it is the date that Congress officially adopted the Declaration of Independence, but they had previously declared the nation's independence from Britain on July 2nd. Its surprising that July 2nd isn't the holiday, but that's really irrelevant for this discussion. What is relevant is that this is the day we observe the anniversary of a very important part of our nation's history.

For most people, the primary function of July 4th is for family gatherings and other celebrations. While it is unfortunate that we need an excuse to gather with our families and communities, it is good that we do take part in these social events. In my experience, July 4th celebrations are normally less wasteful than many other holiday celebrations, with one exception; fireworks.

I am, personally, not a fan of firework displays. My reasons for this are many. First, is that the purpose of fireworks in terms of July 4th celebrations is to represent the sights and sounds of war, which in the case of the American Revolution would have been primarily from cannons. The imagery of war, as a way of remembering our independence of the British is not, in my mind, the best method of recognizing the importance of this part of our history.

Aside from the symbolism, I am not a fan of fireworks for several other reasons. They are wasteful, using resources that could be better used for other methods, as well as requiring significant fuel to be shipped across the world, as many are made in China. In addition to the waste, there are other environmental impacts from the smoke and the debris that falls to the ground. Fireworks also pose a potential health hazard, both due to improper handling and the risks of accidental fires. It has been so dry in my area that several communities have banned the use of fireworks, although I'm certain that will not stop most people from using them. One community went as far as to water down the area where the fireworks for their annual display would be shot off, to lessen the fire risk. Lastly, fireworks are an unnecessary expense. Whenever I see a municipal fireworks display, I'm always reminded of the many other ways the money could have been used instead. Even when it comes to fireworks purchased by individuals, I suspect that in many cases the money could have been better spent, even if it were just spent on purchasing organic food, which so many people say they don't purchase due to the increased cost. For someone attempting to live a more simple lifestyle, the $50 or $100 that might be spent on fireworks could be used to purchase tools or to attend a workshop where useful skills could be learned.

Having said all of that, I think that for most people, the use of fireworks on July 4th is done in moderation, and is far less excessive and wasteful that the way in which many other holidays are celebrated. Even though I do not generally take part in my family's fireworks demonstrations, I do not oppose the use of fireworks by others, as long as they are used responsibly.

The final way that July 4th is meaningful to me is that it is my Dad's birthday. From the perspective of simple living, it being my Dad's birthday is not really relevant. I still wanted to acknowledge it, however, as that has always been one of the major parts of the day for me. I sometimes wonder what is must be like to share a birthday with a day that is celebrated for other reasons. Even though my wife and I do not really celebrate birthdays, I do prefer not having to share the day with another major event.

I hope everyone has a happy and safe July 4th. Be responsible, enjoy time with your friends and family, and take a few moments to reflect on the historical significance of what this day represents.

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