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Your Guide to Celebrating the Fourth of July

This Independence Day, bring out the fireworks and fun

Couple decorating house for celebrating

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En español | Fireworks displays, blow-out backyard barbecues and cannonballs off the diving board are just some of the hallmarks of a typical Independence Day celebration. And this year they’re back.

In the last two years some fireworks displays were canceled due to concerns about the spread of COVID-19, and social distancing discouraged big bashes. But this year, in many places, the Fourth of July may look a lot like it did pre-pandemic. And people are ready to celebrate, even though it remains important to keep pandemic precautions in mind. 

“Everyone is looking for a ray of sunshine and something memorable,” says Mariah Leeson, who runs GigglesGalore, a lifestyle blog to help families create celebrations on a budget.

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. Red tropical flowers or roses paired with blue hydrangeas and some white blooms boost the patriotism factor.

Don’t forget your own red, white and blue. Stick with the theme by donning a spangled hat, T-shirt or 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.

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

With COVID-19 still circulating, outside might be the best place to celebrate, since experts say there’s a lower chance of transmission and people are often able to stay farther apart outdoors. 

You can enhance the festivities with food that echoes 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, plates and cutlery. 

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

Or serve a specialty cocktail that goes beyond beer and wine. In the past, San Diego restaurant Bub’s @ the Beach has offered a Patriotic Pop, featuring blue curaçao, coconut rum, grenadine, a splash of sweet and sour mix, and some creamer on top to create a layered red, white and blue effect.

Find some fireworks

This year more than 40,000 people will line the banks of the Ohio River in Evansville, Indiana, for a fireworks display. The event was canceled in 2020 due to concerns over COVID-19, says Joshua Armstrong, president of the city’s economic improvement district. That year Evansville chose instead to program Main Street’s LED tree-lighting system to cast red, white and blue hues over five city blocks to “wash our main shopping and dining area with colors,” Armstrong says.

Big fireworks displays are also back this year in New York City, Philadelphia, Las Vegas and San Diego, California. Be sure to check with your town or city to see whether there are fireworks scheduled.

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 as you light up your own personal piece of the sky.

backyard firepit can also make things more festive, with hot dogs and s’mores, plus upbeat music playing on outdoor speakers to add some atmosphere.

You could also put together Fourth of July 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. Include 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 cheery 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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group of people playing badminton with a net

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Pick an outdoor activity

The long Independence Day 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.

Most pools are now welcoming patrons as well, so take the family for a dip. 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 holiday also offers extra time to return to sports that may have been unavailable during the quarantine. Play some pickleball, tennis or golf. In your own yard, games like cornhole, Spikeball and badminton are great for a little bit of friendly competition.

Television to mark the holiday

Get into the holiday spirit by streaming patriotic movies, including the sci-fi Independence Day or Born on the Fourth of July. 

If you don’t feel like trekking to the fireworks and sitting outside to watch, you can still view those colorful explosions on-screen. PBS is broadcasting its annual A Capitol Fourth celebration — a concert ending in fireworks — from the National Mall in Washington, D.C., on July 4, starting at 8 p.m. ET. 

There’s also the National Archives’ annual Fourth of July celebration, which features a reading of the Declaration of Independence as well as the original Constitution and the Bill of Rights. The program, which begins at 10 a.m. ET, will be livestreamed on the National Archives’ YouTube and Facebook channels.

With all these options for viewing, playing and partying, you’re sure to have a great holiday.

Editor's note: This article was originally published on June 30, 2020. It's been updated to reflect new information.

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