There are more than 190 sovereign nations today, some big, some small, some old and some new. Each has a national day of independence. How do our celebrations differ?
On July 4, Americans celebrate our 236th Independence Day. The day is chosen to commemorate the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, declaring our independence from Great Britain.
What is the first word that comes to mind when any of these terms are mentioned, July 4, Independence Day? My guess is fireworks. Wikipedia’s Independence Day article starts by noting:
Independence Day is commonly associated with fireworks, parades, barbecues, carnivals, fairs, picnics, concerts, baseball games, family reunions, and political speeches and ceremonies.
Perhaps it is the time of year (the hot hot summer), or perhaps its the roots of how the day was marked in the very beginning, but signs of classical, American patriotism are generally absent (save that the glut of advertising for “4th of July specials” all draped in the “stars and stripes”). The deeper patriotism among Americans is more evident on Memorial Day, a little over a month prior.
The roots of how the day was marked? Well, John Adams one of the five on the committee to draft the declaration wrote home after its adoption to say:
[This day] ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.
It looks like the first part of his recommendation has waned over the years, but the second part grows unabated. Other possible roots (apart from Adams’ thoughts in his letter to his wife Abigail) could be that on the first anniversary (1777), commemorations included 13 gun salutes both in the morning and in the evening. In 1778, General George Washington marked July 4 with a double ration of rum for his soldiers and an artillery salute. I am sure more than one American tomorrow will honor this fine tradition of our founding president with our own “double ration of rum.”
But independence days differ from country to country. I just returned from participating in the National Day of Luxmebourg, Independence Day June 23. Though also a hot hot summer day, how very different are the modes and mindset of these two celebrations. It would seem that the Luxembourgers read John Adam’s letter to wife Abigail quite the other way around, very elegantly and passionately invested in solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty, but only peripherally indulging in pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations.
Yes there are fireworks, magnificent over the deeply carved peaks and valleys of Luxembourg city. There are concerts in the open squares throughout the city, mostly for young people. But all of this happens the night before. The fireworks are not designed as the grand finale and the prime carrier to stir our hearts for God and country.
The national commemoration of Luxembourg Independence itself is marked very differently from the fireworks and concerts the night before. The cornerstone of the commemoration is the Te Deum (Latin for “To God”) that takes place in the Notre Dame Cathedral in Luxembourg City. It is led by the nation’s Archbishop (presently Jean-Claude Hollerich), in the presence Luxembourg’s royal family (presently Grand Duke Henri Albert Gabriel Félix and Marie Guillaume of Luxembourg).
Luxembourg is a secular state, but is predominantly Roman Catholic. It is a a representative democracy with a constitutional monarch, it is ruled by a grand duke, and now the world's only remaining sovereign grand duchy.
The ceremony is attended by Luxembourg's ministers, deputies, ambassadors and other figures of political and public life, as well as international guests and dignitaries. The ceremony is open to the public, but seating is bound by the limits of the capacity in the cathedral.
How differently each country celebrates. But these traditions our United States, and this small European nation, as different as they are, are from closely allied friends. There are vigorous Luxembourg-American friendship groups in both countries, and there are important ties politically through NATO, the European Union, and more. Each year the US Government, through its Secretary of State sends official good wishes to Luxembourg on its sacred day of National Independence.
There are many styles of modernity and many styles of democracy. We should learn from our alliances and friendships, and learning should always be a two-way street.