Throughout America, from big cities to backyard BBQs, Independence Day is celebrated each July 4. But few places offer the magnificent backdrop that is the National Mall. As a colleague once said, attendance evokes a Walt Whitman poem, a connection to those thousands on the Mall in the “seething mass” of Democratic humanity, celebrating the nation’s birthday as a collective whole.
Public gatherings observing the Declaration of Independence date to July 8, 1776. On this day, the Declaration was publicly read for the first time in Philadelphia, PA, Easton, PA, and Trenton, NJ, and met with bells and music in all three cities. And on July 4, 1777, the annual tradition of marking the independence of the colonies from Great Britain was born.
Begin your holiday festivities with the Independence Day Parade held along Constitution Avenue. From there, you can attend the Smithsonian Folklife Festival or head over to the National Archives to read our founding documents. Nowhere else in America can you read the engrossed Declaration originally signed by Congress.
The patriotic festivities culminate with “A Capitol Fourth,” the Independence Day concert inaugurated in 1979 with a performance on the Mall by the National Symphony Orchestra. Many famous faces have been part of the concert in past years, from Elmo to Johnny Cash. Tom Bergeron, host of Dancing With the Stars, will host this year, and musical performances will include Kool & The Gang. Special to this year’s program, there will be tributes to Gene Kelly as well as the USA Olympic Team before they travel to London for the summer games. The fireworks begin at approximately 9:10pm, culminating with Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture.
And did we mention canons yet? The U.S. Army Presidential Salute Battery adds its artillery to Tchaikovsky’s composition.
For those not in the District of Columbia, you can catch the concert on PBS with the other millions of viewers, complete with camera shots across the city and high definition fireworks.
If you are not going down to the Mall, there are many other places to view fireworks in the city. Great locations would include the Jefferson Memorial, Cardozo High School, any bar with a rooftop that has a city view, or even a cruise along the Potomac. No matter where you are, be sure to walk around at night to see residents put on their own pyrotechnics throughout the city. Fireworks are legal in DC, so enjoy the ad hoc entertainment and receive the added benefit of burning off that second (or third) slice of pie you had earlier.
Our Tips For a Successful DC Fourth of July
Getting There: The Smithsonian Metro Station will be closed, so plan an alternative route to the Mall.
Bring: Make a picnic of the afternoon! Bring plenty of sunscreen, water, and picnic fare, but leave your Budweiser at home – alcohol is prohibited on the Mall.
Location, Location, Location: If you go to the Mall, find a spot between 14th Street and the Capitol for prime viewing. Be aware that there are security checkpoints along the Mall. The concert is free, but arrive no later than 6pm for a good spot.
After Show: If you do go down to the Mall, consider walking over to Lincoln Park after the concert to catch neighborhood fireworks.
Context wishes you a happy Fourth of July, celebrating America’s 236th birthday!
Fireworks: Carol M. Highsmith’s America, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.
Declaration of Independence: Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.