Happy day after the 4th of July! …known to most of the world as the 5th of July, which this year is also known as Saturday.
I had a thought yesterday, while I was listening to “bombs bursting in air,” about the difference between this holiday and some of the others that this country celebrates. I wondered if Independence Day is one of the more minimalist of American holidays, at least as they are stereotypically celebrated. (I am about to make some generalizations, and I’m not sure if I’m going to conclude that my initial thought was right or wrong.)
The Fourth of July is about a few things – the peak of summer for some regions of the US (or the hope of summer coming tomorrow for the Pacific Northwest), patriotism, grilling and other casual feasting, and fireworks. Lots of fireworks. Most municipalities regulate the sale of fireworks very heavily (if they don’t ban them outright) so that they’re only available for a couple of weeks before the holiday. Within a few days of the 4th, most people have run out of fireworks and can’t get any more for another year. Fireworks are one of the few things Americans enjoy in a similar way to the Japanese love of cherry blossoms – as something beautiful, but short lived and ephemeral.
Fireworks are very in-the-moment. If you look down or look away, you miss them. They don’t last long – you can use up hundreds of dollars of fireworks in mere minutes. If you don’t pay attention when you’re lighting them, you can make a mistake that might cost you a hand or an eye. You don’t collect them or hoard them (well, you really shouldn’t!) and when you light them off you can’t help but share them with everyone around you.
We spent yesterday with family on the waterfront, feasting on burgers, freshly caught crab, sweetcorn, and salad (and at least a dozen other things), sitting around the fire pit wondering how anyone could eat more than 2 s’mores (so sickly), watching other people blow up fireworks. Our beachfront spot gave us wonderful views, so we were content with lighting and sending off some paper lanterns and letting other people entertain us with rockets. Luckily two doors down was a family with a lot of money and a pyromaniac streak (one is a firefighter) so we were treated to the best amateur display anyone could hope for – a 15+ minute non-stop barrage of the most beautiful fireworks. I think they had multiple lighters and had maybe bundled them and planned the whole thing, because it was as good as the shows I used to go to as a kid, and probably somewhat longer. Our host thought they had spent about $10,000, as they seem to most years.
So, is that minimalist? It’s sure as hell not frugal! But there was no holding on, no hoarding going on. That money was spent on pure experience. Blink-and-you’ll-miss-it experience. I’m always going to view fireworks as setting fire to money, but then again, I’m the opposite of a pyro. I’m just really glad that other people do it and we get to share in the fun. I don’t need to light any myself.
Giving it some more thought I’ve decided that Memorial Day is the most minimalist major holiday on the American calendar – remembering those who have died serving their country, getting outdoors with family and friends, eating summer food, and it’s always a long weekend (although that’s probably why it’s more popular for sales on mattresses and cheap cars than the Fourth which is always on the 4th, even when that’s a Wednesday). Independence Day is pretty close though.
The best holidays are the ones where you get together with people and eat, with no expectation of gift giving. If Thanksgiving wasn’t such an intensive cooking project for the host I would give it the award for best holiday. But I’m not a fan of Fall or the earnest testimonials of people counting their blessings so it’s never going to be my favorite.
I don’t think any American holiday is really minimalist, unless it’s one of those ones that hardly anyone actually notices, but then it’s not really a holiday. But holiday can be minimalist if you choose to strip it down to their barest level. That doesn’t mean eating one s’more and lighting a sparkler with one small American flag in hand. Or Charlie Brown’s stick Christmas Tree.
I think it means:
Getting back to the meaning of the holiday, whatever that might be to you. Being with people who share that feeling. Eating food together that is appropriate to that event. Performing the rituals that make that day different from a normal everyday day.
Maybe borrowing a vintage Star Spangled sweater to wear over your Sketchbook Tour American map tshirt…
We had a fun and happy Fourth of July.
I hope you did too, or at least had a happy Friday if that’s all it was where you live.