Why this 4 July will be unlike any other

For millions of Americans, celebrating 4 July comes with certain rituals and traditions.

Parades, public fireworks displays and large family reunions are some of the most popular ways Americans mark the nation’s independence from Britain in 1776.

But this year is set to look a little different. Here’s why.

1) Cancelled parades

Sadly, it looks like the floats will have to stay in the garage this year.

Cities around the US have cancelled their annual parades as cases of coronavirus continue to rise. The National Independence Day Parade in Washington DC is the highest-profile casualty.

“Covid-19 infection levels will not be abated to the degree that it would be safe,” its organisers said in a rather downcast statement.

But others have approached things with a more creative touch.

In the small town of Montgomery, Ohio, there’s set to be a “reverse parade” where motorists will drive past a stationary show featuring the usual marching band, stilt walkers and floats.

Either way, we’re unlikely to see the kind of showpiece events that we’re used to. There’s always next year, at least.

2) Secret fireworks

Fireworks displays are synonymous with Independence Day and – while a raft of events have been cancelled – it’s not all bad news.

Some organisers have come up with ingenious ways to ensure they can still go ahead without crowds gathering to watch.

In New York, the Macy’s Fireworks Show is being held over a series of nights at unspecified locations and times. Each show will last for just five minutes to avoid crowds being able to gather.

Other cities, such as Boston and Houston, are encouraging people to watch the fireworks from home on TV or online. Which brings us nicely onto…

3) …virtual events

It’s fair to say this pandemic has pushed a lot of people to do more online, and that appears to include celebrating Independence Day.

A huge number of events will be streamed online so they can be enjoyed safely at home.

The Capitol Fourth concert in Washington DC is one of the most well-known. This year, it was pre-recorded in “iconic locations across the country” and will be shown both online and on TV.

And in Los Angeles, an arts centre is set to host an “online block party” with music and other performances being shown live on Facebook. Plenty of other cities are planning to livestream concerts of their own.

Oh, and one of the quirkier Independence Day traditions – Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest – is still going ahead with various Covid-19 precautions in place.

The century-old competition will be shown on TV where it’s previously attracted almost two million viewers. Some traditions are sacred, after all.

4) ‘Sorry, we’re closed’

While some events organisers are finding innovative ways to keep things on track, there’s no getting around the fact that a lot of public spaces will be closed this weekend.

Bars and restaurants will be shut in many states, as officials continue to pull back on plans to reopen after the recent spike in coronavirus cases.

And beaches in states such as Florida and California, which would normally be packed with holidaymakers, will be closed to the public.

But there’s some consolation if you had planned a trip to see a major attraction.

A fair few offer some form of online tour, including the USS Constitution which is one of the world’s oldest warships. It’s set to stream virtual tours as well as a live 21-gun salute to mark Independence Day on Saturday.

5) Protests and politics

Beyond the pandemic, the US has also been rocked by another major news event this year.

The death of African American George Floyd in police custody in May triggered nationwide protests and led to renewed demands for an end to institutional racism. Many of these protests targeted statues of controversial historical figures.

Now, some officials are concerned that Independence Day could see further clashes at monuments and sites.

President Donald Trump’s administration has put “rapid deployment teams” in place to guard federal monuments around the country ahead of the long weekend.

“While the department respects every American’s right to protest peacefully, violence and civil unrest will not be tolerated,” Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf said in a statement announcing the move.

There are also plans for Black Lives Matter protests on 4 July in a swathe of cities including Orlando, Newark and Washington DC.

6) The start date

While the majority of this year’s events will take place on 4th, the celebrations will actually kick-off on 3rd.

That’s when President Trump will travel to the Mount Rushmore National Monument in South Dakota for the first firework display there in more than a decade.

It’s proved to be a controversial plan for a few reasons. Firstly, there are environmental concerns as some fear the display could set off wildfires in the surrounding forest.

And Native American groups are planning to protest against Mr Trump’s visit as the monument to former US presidents was built on land sacred to the Sioux tribe.

The event has also attracted criticism because social distancing will not be enforced and masks will not be mandatory. “We told those folks that have concerns that they can stay home,” the Republican governor said.

Mr Trump has promised a “special evening” back in Washington DC, too, where 10,000 fireworks will be set off as part of the “Salute to America” event which is still going ahead.

But the city’s Mayor Muriel Bowser has expressed concern and urged people to stay at home. “Ask yourself, do you need to be there?” she said. “Do you know if you’ll be able to social distance?”

Their disagreement points to the fraught political backdrop that is likely to make this year’s Independence Day – in more ways than one – unlike any other.

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