Newsflash, America: the British do not celebrate Independence Day.
This should be a no-brainer, yet my Yankee friends and family cannot conceive of a world in which the 4th of July does not include a day off, a barbeque and a fireworks display. My own parents should be accustomed to this since, for most of my childhood, July 4th fell in the middle of Summer Rep season and there was usually a 6:45pm stage call. Sometimes we might see distant fireworks during intermission.
Today I went to work at the usual time. I did have a New York Deli sandwich and three Reeces’s Peanut Butter cups from the Co-op for lunch though. This evening, after school and work, my family and I barbequed some burgers. And that’s all she wrote. Maybe I could have snuck over to the American military base outside of town to watch fireworks from across the road but I find the idea frankly depressing. Like watching a circus through a window. I have hosted barbeques at our house before. I make far too much food and put Bruce Springsteen on the stereo. But that doesn’t really fill the void either.
There are only two days on the calendar which make me feel truly homesick: Thanksgiving and Independence Day. The British do not celebrate Thanksgiving either. Another no-brainer that baffles those back home. I have tried to convince North Yorkshire County Council that American is a religion, making the 4th of July and the third Thursday in November High Holy Days which I should, by rights, have off work to celebrate in the manner of my people. It hasn’t worked. Yet.
As compensation, I get Bonfire Night, aka 5th of November aka Guy Fawkes Night. It’s a reasonably patriotic occasion, as patriotic as it gets in Britain. Though it feels strange to celebrate a guy who tried to blow up parliament and over-throw the King. Yes, I know we are celebrating the fact that he failed, but sometimes that little nuance gets lost in the rebellious North.
There are fireworks. But it’s in November. A fireworks display where no one plays God Bless America and during which I dance about to keep warm feels wrong. Instead you inevitably get the Star Wars theme and sometimes Ride of the Valkyries. Hot dog and burger barbeques are replaced by sausages and toffee apples around a bonfire.
Oh, yes. There is an enormous bonfire on which we get to burn an effigy. Traditionally it’s a straw representation of Guy Fawkes, but it could be anyone really. George Bush was a favourite a few years back and there is even one community in the south which every year petitions Rome for permission to burn an effigy of the pope. It’s always granted.
Earlier today my brother-in-law asked if we burn effigies of the King on Independence Day. I think we should definitely start doing this. I can see it now. Sunburnt folks gathered in their tank-topped masses and baseball hats as a straw man strapped to a wooden cross gets paraded through the cheering crowd to be ritually incinerated.
On second thought, we should probably stick with hotdogs.