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4th of July Traditions You Didn’t Know Existed

Fireworks Explosion

With summer upon us, the 4th of July holiday on the horizon, and the promise of firework displays in the distance, now’s the perfect time to plan an American road trip with your friends or family to visit some of America’s most unique towns and cities. While we may all be familiar with NYC’s Statue of Liberty, LA’s Hollywood sign, and Chicago’s Hancock building, there are plenty of other off-the-beaten-path locales that have their own special appeal – some of which you might not have even heard of before! For example…

Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest (New York, NY)

This is probably one of America’s most famous 4th of July celebrations and also one that has international roots. Since it began in 1916, Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest has been held on Coney Island every Independence Day. Participants from around North America gather to see who can eat as many hot dogs and buns in 12 minutes as possible. These guys are beasts! Reigning champ Joey Chestnut ate 76 hot dogs in 10 minutes at the 2020 competition! This marked his 14th time winning the competition.

Mr. and Mrs. Muscle Beach (Venice, CA)

For over 50 years, Venice, CA has celebrated Independence Day with Mr. and Mrs. Muscle Beach competition. What started out as a simple local competition has grown into an international competition where people come from all over to be crowned Mr. and Mrs. Muscle Beach on one of these United States’ greatest holidays.

Boston Pops Orchestra (Boston, MA)

The Boston Pops Orchestra has been playing on top of Boston Common for over a century, with a longstanding tradition to play Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture at sunset on 4th of July. The exuberant piece is filled with cannons, fireworks, and other sounds meant to match explosions in a patriotic display that includes reenactments and fireworks across Boston Common.

Marshmallow Fight (San Diego, CA)

San Diego may be known for their laid-back, Californian lifestyle, but they’re no stranger to hosting a wacky 4th of July Marshmallow Fight every year. The epic battle starts at dusk, when thousands swarm onto Harbor Drive in San Diego to throw sugary marshmallows at each other until exhaustion sets in. This one started in the 1980s, when a few families lobbed marshmallows back and forth at a backyard BBQ. The event became progressively more popular over time, and grew into a nuisance to some because of the crowds and resulting litter. Most recently, the biggest marshmallow fight has been taking place at the University of California, San Diego campus.

National Fence Painting Contest (Hannibal, MO)

For Independence Day, people in Hannibal hold a fence painting contest in honor of the Author Mark Twain, who was born there in 1835. The event is the highlight of their Tom Sawyer Days celebration, with contestants dressing up like characters from “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” and racing to paint their patch of fence the fastest. Hannibal, Missouri’s Tom Sawyer Days originated in 1956 with the fence painting competition, eventually growing to a days-long festival. In 1964, the contest got even more exciting when each of the ten states along the Mississippi River were invited to participate. Contestants ranging from 10 to 13 years of age are judged on the accuracy of their costumes (which must be based in the book) as well as the speed and quality of their fence painting.

Wili Boom Box Parade (Wilimantic, CT)

Wilimantic, Connecticut’s Wili Boom Box Parade has an original spin on a familiar staple. For the past 30 years, this parade has been hosted annually on July 4th. It began with a predicament in 1986, when no marching bands were available to play in a Memorial Day parade, and the town needed to be very innovative. A resident came up with the idea for parade participants to carry boom box radios, turned to WILI, who would be broadcasting marching band music. This has since become a yearly tradition to celebrate Independence Day.

Willie Nelson’s 4th of July Picnic (Austin, TX)

Willie Nelson’s 4th of July Picnic is a 35-year-old tradition in Austin, Texas. With the first picnic taking place at Hurlbut Ranch just outside of Austin, TX, it has transformed into a massive music festival featuring several renowned performers who join Nelson and his band on stages all around Texas. In response to the pandemic, the festival was held virtually in 2021, but this year’s celebration will be held in the new Q2 Stadium.

Whether you’re participating in one of these 4th of July traditions or simply planning to kick back and watch a fireworks display, it’s important to remember what we’re celebrating: our country. If you live in a city that celebrates with parades, get out there and root for your favorite marching band. Once the day is over, don’t forget to retire your extra flags respectfully. It’s a day for us all to come together as Americans—to celebrate our history and diversity—and remind ourselves why we love where we live. Let’s have fun!