Aside from a well-made mac and cheese, holidays are my true weakness. I’m that crazy person who sends my annual Christmas party save-the-dates the day I put away the Easter grass, I’m the obnoxiously sappy person in pink on Valentine’s Day and I’m the mermaid eating Count Chocula and watching Halloween in between trick-or-treaters on October 31.
But there are a few supposedly joyous holiday rituals for which the “joy” part has always eluded me. Dying eggs is tedious, finger-staining and olfactory-offending, wrapping lights around the Christmas trees drives me to overdo the eggnog, and I’m positive that manically-smashed pumpkins are the frustrated byproduct of people who were recently forced to sit and carve one themselves. Once the rough part is over I enjoy every last detail, but the one holiday that has always – sometimes literally – sucked the life out of me is the Fourth of July.
Now I adore America and I adore birthdays, but two of the sneakiest sounds-like-fun-but-is-really-pure-evil activities occur on this day – parades and fireworks. These activities are stale pieces of bread on an otherwise fabulous sandwich of family fun time and amazing food.
Growing up in the Chicago suburbs, the Fourth of July was usually a humid ninety degrees. Midwesterners everywhere had the same ritual – we’d all put on our uber-patriotic Old Navy t-shirts and start the six-coat shellac process: one layer of sunscreen, then one layer of bug spray then one layer of sunscreen, and so on. I assure you this process was in vain.
The town parade was the first order of the day. With one hand shielding your eyes from the sun and the other waving at the clown in hopes that he chucks candy in your general direction, you stood in the sweltering heat as crowds cheered at their children and sweat yellowed your t-shirt. The lively music and the old Dalmatian-in-a-fire-truck bit makes you think you’re having a good time, but it’s all just a rouse to give Dad time to have a few beers as he “fires up the grill” back home. The parade has accomplished its mission and you’re a few pints short of blood already.
Next is the wonderful meat filling of the day – the barbecue. You load your plate with corn on the cob, a couple hot dogs, and some of that fabulous Jell-O all whip-creamed and strawberried up to look like an American flag, and then you attempt to sneak inside to the solace of the air conditioner… to no avail. Mom is going to make you sit outside with the fam and “enjoy the beautiful day.” Your arms now match your berries.
Finally the sun goes down and it’s off to watch the most anti-climactic show on earth. Unless you’re at Disneyland or one of those parties at the Gatsby household, fireworks are like the wedding cake of holidays. You wait and wait for the big finish, and then you all sit around staring at each other assuming there’s more. And if the show happened to be amazing, you surely missed it by playing the “whose blood is this” game after each mosquito you smashed.
As much as the Fourth of July was always a half-loaded firecracker of a holiday for me, I’ll find my own way to celebrate the hell out of it. And when I have my own family, I’ll be the one sending them off to the parade while I toss back a few and “fire up the grill.”