Independence Day and The Charm of Small Town Celebrations

Big cities can offer the best fireworks displays, the biggest, most exciting performances by renowned artists, and the largest variety of deep-fried fair foods. Traveling to a large city to celebrate Independence Day can be an extraordinary way to mark the occasion. You could watch fireworks in St. Paul, Minnesota, parked on a postage stamp of space with the capitol building, chameleon-like, taking on colors as they sprout from the sky. Or view fireworks in Anchorage (okay, not that big of a city, but among the best Alaska has to offer!), sitting on a hillside with jacketed locals at dusk. You could take in the show at Navy Pier, surrounded by thousands of your closest acquaintances with the smells of mini donuts, ice cream and second hand smoke heavy in the air. Or you could watch the fireworks in New York City, five blocks of pedestrian traffic back, with a view partially obscured by buildings and a chain link fence.

Sometimes, marking the 4th of July in large cities leaves something to be desired.

An all-American cowgirl waits for parade candy to fly her way, in Cody, Wyoming.
Photo by Charish Badzinski. 

I remember attending the Independence Day celebration in my small hometown of Brainerd, Minnesota, years ago. As a returning adult, most of my friends had moved on, so I went to the festivities with family. It was simple, small town fun. We sat on the sidewalk and watched the tiny but enthusiastic parade go by: the political candidates, the protesters, the business owners and the Veterans. We stood in respect as the American flag passed, hoisted high. We captured candy thrown to us, and handed it off to glassy-eyed children…minus a piece or two. We clapped as the high school band marched down Fifth Street, past the high school I myself had attended, its echoes of the dramas of youth playing in the background of my mind. We danced barefoot on the football field as a cover band played and the sun beat down.

And when that sun set, we found a soft spot on the grass, where the damp of recent rains soaked slightly through. I rested my head on the soft pillow of my history and watched as the sky blazed with the enduring symbols of our nation’s sacrifice, hopefulness and independence.

There’s something magical about spending the 4th of July in a small town.

A dog, dressed appropriately for the Cody, Wyoming Parade. Photo by Charish Badzinski. 
For the past several years, I’ve intentionally spent the 4th of July away from the hordes, instead seeking out simpler experiences to celebrate the day. Last year, it was Cody, Wyoming, where the parade was primarily comprised of horse-drawn apparatuses, real-life cowboys and necessary pooper-scoopers. 
Just one of several pooper-scoopers in the Cody, Wyoming Independence Day parade.
Photo by Charish Badzinski. 

In a time when our nation is so flush with wealth that we can support and afford to attend grand events, there’s something wonderful about choosing to scale back and step aside from the mad dash for the biggest, best and brightest. A return to the wholesome goodness upon which this nation was founded helps us refocus.

Wholesome goodness: burgers and beans prepared for the public by the
Cody, Wyoming Fire Department. Attendees were asked to make a donation for the meal.
Photo by Charish Badzinski. 

In the quiet between the strategically-spaced fireworks of a low budget, small town display, in the pause between humble floats and marching bands, you can hear the ghosts of our nation’s history.

This day is important.

Indeed, we should pause and reflect upon what it means, and realize so many things we take for granted in our lives are, in reality, tremendous gifts. Gifts for which the groundwork was lain more than two centuries ago. Think about that. With the stroke of a pen, our brave forefathers crafted words which still course through our country’s veins: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

When the outdoor concert subwoofers are so loud, the festivals so crowded and the fireworks shows so earth-rumbling, when the beer lines are long and the cheese curds and corn dogs singe our mouths, how easy it is to tune out this truth.

But sit quietly at a small town celebration, and the truth sits beside you…enjoying the unobstructed view of what our ancestors had only dreamed we might someday call our own.

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Charish Badzinski is an explorer, foodie and award-winning travel and food writer. When she isn’t working to build her blog: Rollerbag Goddess Rolls the World, she applies her worldview to her small business, providing strategic communications, media relations and writing support to individuals and organizations. 

Find Charish on Twitter: @charishb
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Creative Commons License
Rollerbag Goddess Rolls the World by Charish Badzinski is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at rollerbaggoddess.blogspot.com.
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