There are a lot of positive, cool things about the Covid vaccine becoming widely available here in NYC, and one of them is the timing. If you’re a reasonably social person, losing a social summer is a gigantic bum-out. Two in a row would have been brutal. I and a lot of my friends were able to get 100% vaxxed during the spring, and thank god for that.
Now we can have a full-on Fourth of July again, and I personally am extremely here for it.
The Fourth of July is my favorite holiday, mostly because it’s the best holiday. I very often like to root for the underdog, and to some people — also maybe in a commercial sense — the Fourth might be something of an underdog. However, those people are wrong, and I’d rather not allow commerce into this discussion — it’s done enough damage to holidays (all varieties). The Fourth is objectively and measurably the best holiday. If you disagree with me, gaze into your heart and ask yourself whether your disagreement is rooted in some kind of sentimental attachment to anything else.
I’d be dishonest if I were to say my appreciation of the Fourth has no sentimental layer to it; a couple of very strong Fourths of July during my early 20s pushed the date closer to the front of my mind and turned it into a day to look forward to. Specifically — I used to live a block from a beach, where there were fireworks every Fourth, and my roommates and I threw a party each year. I have fond memories of one of my roommates drunkenly screaming “FRANCE!!” and “CIRCUIT CITY!!” at the blossoming night sky. Tight.
But let’s not stray too far from the point. The point is that the Fourth of July is the best holiday. More specifically, the Cookout Holidays are the best holidays, and the Fourth is the greatest of the Cookout Holidays.
My emphasis here is really on the “cookout” part, rather than on what the Fourth is supposed to signify as a holiday, per se. I’m not exactly a flag-waver myself. My take on the US is: We live in an interesting and complicated country that needs a lot of work. The fact that I was born here doesn’t imbue me with any special-ness, and it doesn’t make this country any more special either. I think that in a lot of cases — although not universally — there’s some amount of ego tied up in what normally passes for patriotism. (No judgment. Everyone’s got ego tied up in something or other.)
My emphasis isn’t even necessarily on cookouts per se; I’m using “cookouts” as a stand-in for the general, stereotypical vibe of the secular summer holidays. It’s a synecdoche.
I got to thinking about the greatness of the Cookout Holidays last year when I received an email on July 6 — right after the Fourth of July that wasn’t — from one of my clients. She opened, “Hi, Brian. Hope you had a nice Fourth of July with family.” My immediate reaction, in my mind, was: Okay, first off, you clearly know nothing of my personal life. More importantly, that is not what the Fourth of July is for. It’s… not exactly a holiday where you seek out your family if your family isn’t already in your house or down the road. Religious holidays are often family holidays. Thanksgiving? Family holiday. Those are good days for appreciating familial bonds, which is not necessarily a top-level objective for the Fourth. The Fourth is a holiday where you hit up some people you like, and you hang all afternoon, possibly drinking beers with a relatively low alcohol volume. The only reason I’m gonna call my mom on the Fourth is if it’s a Saturday, and that’s just because I call my mom on Saturdays.
Or don’t hang all afternoon. No one’s going to care. The Cookout Holidays are the best holidays because you can do anything you want. Well, as long as no one gets hurt, unless of course they explicitly consent to getting hurt. The Cookout Holidays don’t require much to be enjoyable — not even decent weather, if you’re imaginative. I want to make clear much of this argument is not my opinion, but is official guidance from the Committee of Zero-Pressure Fun.
This is really the kicker: The Cookout Holidays are the best holidays because of their glorious flexibility. They can be “friends” things. They can be “family” things. No one is expected to travel. You can hit up multiple spots during the day and evening, and you don’t have to feel awkward about it. You roll up when you want, you leave when you want, you wear whatever is comfortable, the menu is whatever the host and guests feel like, and anything that feels ritualized is optional.
Fireworks? Pretty big on the Fourth, sure. But they last for what, 20 minutes? It’s 25 in NYC. You get the entire day to have a Fourth of July, and if you don’t feel like participating in one little 20-minute slice of it, you’re fine. You can skip the fireworks, and if anyone gives you any crap for it, tell them they lack imagination.
Parades? I think some towns have those on the Fourth. My hometown didn’t. It’s hot in July. I’m pretty glad that when I was in high school, no one asked me to march around in 80-degree heat wearing a uniform meant for the football season.
Burgers and hot dogs? Even that part is optional. Some friends of mine served up a Mexican food spread on the Fourth one year. It was awesome. I think my girlfriend and I probably made sushi one Fourth. When I was a kid, my Italian-American great-aunts would bring trays of eggplant parm and sausage and peppers. (Although, to be fair, anyone of Italian-American descent will tell you that happens at every holiday, full stop.) Serve the food you like. People will eat it.
Anything that happens on the Fourth of July that resembles a ritual is, more accurately, just an add-on. We have a lot of optional add-ons! That’s one of the reasons the Fourth is the best holiday: options. Look, you can stay at home and do absolutely nothing if you want, and people will get it. Because the Fourth is a day off work. If it lands on a weekend, you still get the Friday or the Monday off. Sometimes the Fourth gives you a four-day weekend! Which is certainly one of the reasons why it has an edge over the other Cookout Holidays.
In my opinion, the most substantial edge the Fourth of July has over Memorial Day and Labor Day is the tone. There is a solemnity to Memorial Day. We’re celebrating, but the thing we’re memorializing is, at its core, really sad. Same goes for Labor Day, if you’re in tune with the purpose of Labor Day — the drive toward workers’ rights in this country has been hard and bloody. On the Fourth of July, we commemorate a bunch of dudes signing a document so they could get the f out of work immediately and out of the sweaty, stanky room they’d all been sitting in. They were younger than we as a society usually remember (about 40% of the signers were in their 20s or 30s), and they were probably low-key drunk the whole time they were in town. Put it that way, it all just sounds like an office-job Summer Friday, but with worse climate control.
The Fourth of July is coming up in five days, and, my people, I have no idea what I’ll be doing. It doesn’t matter. I’ll probably do what I typically do: Text some friends the day beforehand, ask them what they’re up to, and see if anyone invites me to anything. If I don’t get any bites, so what? Are other people having a good time? Great. That’s enough for me. I enjoy seeing other people have a good time, and I can entertain myself.
But, I mean, I’m still holding out for a good backyard hang. Doesn’t need to be a cookout, even. Neglected to mention this earlier, but I don’t actually eat red meat. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯