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Your Guide to the July 4 Weekend

How to make the holiday festive despite closures and social distancing restrictions

Couple decorating house for celebrating

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En español | Fireworks shows, blow-out backyard barbecues, and cannonballs off the diving board are just some of the hallmarks of a typical Independence Day celebration.

This year is a little different. Some fireworks displays are canceled due to concerns about the spread of COVID-19, and social distancing discourages big bashes. But we all need a bit of celebrating right now and there are still lots of ways to enjoy the July 4th holiday, whatever mode of quarantine you're practicing.

"We can't necessarily celebrate the same way we have in the past,” says Mariah Leeson, who runs GigglesGalore, a lifestyle blog to help families create celebrations on a budget, “but everyone is looking for a ray of sunshine and something memorable."

Here are some ways to make the Independence Day weekend festive.

Go all in on patriotic décor

Start with displaying the American flag to show your patriotism. We've got the advice you need to properly display the Stars and Stripes with respect. For starters, never let the flag touch the ground.

But decorations don't have to stop with the flag. Napkins, tablecloths, streamers and bunting in red, white and blue can amp up the celebratory feeling. Same goes for front-door wreaths, candleholders and mason jar lanterns. You can make many of these yourself.

Flowers are a great way to brighten up a gathering, says Shayla Copas, of Little Rock, Arkansas, the author of Four Seasons of Entertaining. Tropical flowers or red roses paired with blue hydrangeas and some variety of flowers boost the patriotism factor.

Don't forget your own red, white and blue. Stick with the theme, with a spangled hat, T-shirt, accessories — or even just clothes that match the colors of the day.

"We don't want to lose that sense of having a party,” Copas says, even if it's a scaled-down version. “We've got to make things as special as we can going through this."

Hot Dog with potato chips at Fourth of July BBQ with people and other picnic items in the background. Influenced by the current trend in food photography of showing food in the foreground and lifestyle imagery out of focus in the background.

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Entertain, but with care

If you are going to socialize for the holiday, outside is the place to do it. Experts say there's a lower chance of transmission of COVID-19 outdoors, and people are often able to stay farther apart. There are a number of ways to make sure a summer cookout is less of a risk. Make sure to provide hand sanitizer, minimize shared items — like that serving spoon or bottle of barbecue sauce — and even consider having guests bring their own plates and cups.

You can enhance the festivities with food that plays to the Independence Day theme, like an American flag sheet cake, decorated with white icing, strawberries and blueberries. Or feature a patriotic ice cream bar, with red, white and blue sprinkles, whipped cream, cherries and other toppings that are tasty and visually stimulating, Leeson says. Use holiday-themed cups. You might scoop the ice cream in advance to keep guests socially distant.

For a more adult-themed dessert, San Diego Chef Daniel England of the OMG Hospitality Group suggests soaking watermelon wedges in champagne for 24 hours, then sprinkling with zest of lemon, lime and orange. Before serving, toss on some chopped mint.

Or come up with a specialty cocktail that goes beyond beer and wine. San Diego restaurant Bub's @ the Beach is serving a Patriotic Pop, featuring blue curacao, coconut rum, grenadine, a splash of sweet and sour and some creamer on top to create a layered red, white and blue effect.

Find alternatives to fireworks

On a typical Independence Day in Evansville, Indiana, 40,000 people line the banks of the Ohio River for the fireworks display, but this year's event is canceled, says Joshua Armstrong, president of the city's economic improvement district. Instead, Armstrong says the city will program Main Street's LED tree-lighting system to cast red, white and blue hues over five city blocks. “It will wash our main shopping and dining area with colors,” Armstrong says.

At home, you might opt for child- (and adult-) friendly sparklers, which are always a hit. If you're in a state that permits fireworks, handle them with care and light up your own personal piece of the sky.

For Lou Rodriguez, 63, of Evanston, the Fourth of July usually means he and his wife would be at a big rooftop party watching fireworks, but this holiday they're doing small, outdoor, socially distant gatherings. His wife will be baking and cooking. “This year it's more about spending time with friends,” he said.

A backyard firepit can also introduce a bit of celebration, with hot dogs and s'mores, and some upbeat music using outdoor speakers to add some atmosphere.

But you don't need fire to feel festive. Put together July Fourth fireworks celebration buckets for guests or to drop off for grandchildren, says Leeson. Fill a decorative bucket with kid-friendly party snappers that pop when they hit the ground, or add sparklers, confetti poppers or candy. Add in some bubbles, which you can turn red or blue with food coloring, and glow sticks that kids can form into bracelets and necklaces.

And don't forget the lights. String up those popular big-bulbed outdoor lights for a festive effect. Or visit your local Target or Walmart to pick up strings of star-shaped lights or red, white and blue globes.

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Pick an outdoor activity

The long Fourth of July weekend is a great time to get outside with family and friends. With many local, state and national parks open, find a trail for a hike or bike ride. Check here for state-by-state coronavirus restrictions and information about what's open and what's not.

Many pools are now welcoming patrons as well. So take a dip, but make sure you're practicing safe social-distancing etiquette, which includes staying six feet apart even in the water, and wearing a masks when you're not swimming. At home, kids always like to run through a sprinkler or play on a Slip ‘N Slide to cool off. Why not join them?

The long weekend also offers extra time to go back to some sports that may have been unavailable during the quarantine. Play some pickleball, tennis or golf if they're allowed in your area, but be sure to follow the new coronavirus-era etiquette when participating.

And in your own yard, games like cornhole, Spikeball and badminton are great for a little bit of friendly competition.

Television to mark the holiday

While some traditional Fourth of July celebrations, including fireworks and parades, have been canceled, you can still watch those colorful explosions on-screen. PBS is broadcasting its annual Capital Fourth concert — ending in fireworks — from the National Mall in Washington, D.C., on July 4, from 8-9:30 p.m. ET. NPR will air the concert too, and the event will be livestreamed on Facebook and on YouTube.

There's also the National Archives’ first-ever July 4th celebration, which features a reading of the Declaration of Independence along with the original Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

Then there's Hamilton. Disney+ (subscription required) will air a filmed stage production of the popular hip-hop musical about America's founding fathers on July 3. Sprinkle in a few Independence Day-themed movies or those that focus on patriotism, and your viewing hours will be covered.

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