The small town I live in has fabulous events centered around US Independence Day. There's a parade, a road race, performances and concerts, a commemorative breakfast, and a town party on the beach, Most residents decorate for the holiday with new and antique flags, and other regalia in front of their homes - especially those along the parade route. It's a really fun time to be in this town. But ask most residents what it means to be patriotic and they stumble a bit.
These national holidays are so much more than picnics and parades. Even though I would never want to do away with those, I do want to be sure my kids understand the foundation of the holiday they are celebrating and simply saying, "America's birthday," isn't quite it.
This is a great time to use your local library. There are many books on the subjects of the founding of our respective countries, and from many different perspectives. Searching out the stories of the less mainstream witnesses to history is well worth the effort. While your kids might balk at this very educational exercise during the school-free summer months, you can make it into an interesting family project: if you are willing to read some newer historical material as well (and there are some excellent, well-written books out in the last several years), each member of the family can read a book or part of a book in advance of the big day so you can have a real discussion as part of your own national celebrations.
It's also a great time to talk to veterans about how they view the day in light of their service to their country. Yes, Memorial Day and Veteran's Day are also good for these discussions, but early July is not a time to shy away from them in favor of another hot dog. Veterans of all ages have given tremendous amount of time, energy, and blood to our respective countries, and their stories and impressions are well worth repeating, any time of the year.
Much of our discussions with our kids about patriotism include discussions of our family's values. I don't believe there is one absolute definition of what it means for any one person to be patriotic; you might feel differently, and another family might have a slightly different perspective based on their background and experience. As parents, it's our job to convey these understandings and values to our children. Once we start having these discussions as a family, we can also discuss other displays of patriotism that may be very different from our own and how we family view those efforts at expression in relation to our own.
Talking about patriotism and loyalty to a greater national community are part of core values, as well as being core to the reasons we have parades and commemorative breakfasts and fireworks. By talking about it, by learning why we celebrate, we make our own observance of these days less rote, less blind, and far more active and personal. For the coming generation of citizens of both nations, that can only be a good thing.
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