Fourth of July: What is Independence Day?

Last updated at 06:27
Statue of LibertyAFP/Getty Images
The Statue of Liberty is seen as an important sign of freedom and independence

Each year on 4 July, millions of Americans all over the world celebrate Independence Day.

The occasion is normally marked by lots of parades, concerts and food-filled celebrations with friends and family. Offices and schools are closed for the day so people can join in with the festivities.

Famous landmarks are lit up with bright lights and spectacular fireworks displays can be seen in some of America's biggest cities.

While some events will be cancelled or smaller than usual due to the pandemic, many events will go ahead around the country, with people expected to follow social distancing rules.

What is independence?

The Oxford English Dictionary says independence is "exemption from external control or support; freedom from subjection or from the influence of others; individual liberty of thought or action."

That's pretty complicated!

Independence Day bicycle paradeGetty Images
Here's a look at Philadelphia's annual Independence Day decorated bicycle parade. Looks fun!

What it basically means is that if a country is truly independent:

  • It isn't controlled by another country or person
  • It doesn't need the help or support of anything else, or anyone else, to exist
  • It doesn't have to follow rules made by anyone else, and
  • Its people have freedom in their thoughts and actions

So when a country celebrates an independence day, it is marking the date from when it was able to rule itself - usually after being ruled by another country.

While it may be Independence Day for people in America on 4 July, there are many countries all over the world which have their own independence days.

For example, 11 November is Independence Day in Angola, when the country celebrates the date in 1975 from when it was no longer ruled by the Portuguese.

On 9 July, Argentineans celebrate their independence, when - in 1816 - the Spanish were no longer in charge of them.

Grandmother and grandson celebrating Independence DayGetty Images
It is traditional for families and friends to get together to celebrate Independence Day
What is the story of America's Independence Day?

Independence Day in America marks the date back in 1776 when Americans broke away from being ruled by the British, who had been on the continent since the 16th Century.

Back then, America was divided up into 13 colonies:

  • New Hampshire
  • Massachusetts
  • Rhode Island and Providence
  • Connecticut
  • New York
  • New Jersey
  • Pennsylvania
  • Delaware
  • Maryland
  • Virginia
  • Carolina
  • Georgia

People who lived there used to have to pay taxes to Britain, even though they didn't have anybody representing them in Parliament.

Eventually, people had had enough of being ruled by London.

Declaration of Independence being signedGetty Images
The signing of the document - once it had been declared - actually took place over a series of months. This picture shows delegates to the Second Continental Congress signing the Declaration of Independence in August of that year

In June 1776, a group called the Colonies' Second Continental Congress came together in Philadelphia in order to put together a document to finally cut ties with Great Britain. (Philadelphia used to be the political capital of America - not Washington!)

The document was written and tweaked and rewritten until - after 86 changes - everybody was happy. The final version was finished on 4 July 1776 and the colonies declared themselves no longer part of the British Empire.

The very next day, the document - called the Declaration of Independence - was sent around to everyone.

Family celebrating Independence Day togetherGetty Images
The Fourth of July is celebrated is the birth date of the United States as we know it today

Fighting between the Americans and the British did carry on after this date, but a few years later the British Parliament also officially recognised America's independence.

The Declaration of Independence is now one of the most important symbols to American citizens of their freedom and of what makes their country the United States.

In 1870, Independence Day was formally established as an official holiday by Congress, but workers weren't paid for that day. In 1938, it became a paid national holiday across the whole country.

Now, Independence Day in the US is celebrated as the birth date of the nation as we know it today.

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