Monday, July 04, 2005

Happy 4th-o-July!!!

Happy 4th everybody!

Ahhh... how I miss it! The rocket's red glare, bombs bursting in air ... black-cats, roman candles, bottle-rocket wars! M-80s, cherry bombs! All that cool stuff!

Nothing symbolizes summer in the USA for me quite like Independence Day. Growing up in the midwest of the 1970's and 80's, it was always the high point of summer vacation; you knew that summer had officially arrived when the sprawling fireworks tents began springing up on the outskirts of town. Where else in the world do parents give a $50 bag of gunpowder and ordinance to their kids and say "go knock yourselves out!" ?.

Fourth of July (the American Independence Day) of course is not celebrated in Brazil, and could easily pass unnoticed by me if the name of the holiday didn't have the date in it. Brazil has it's own independence day, which falls on September 7th; unfortunately, fireworks are not part of the cultural tradition surrounding the separation of the Brazilian Empire from the Portuguese Empire.

Nothing reminds you more that you live in a foreign country than the holidays; holidays grow from culture and tradition, and although many are shared across international boundaries, the ways of celebrating them vary with each local culture. As Brazil is a very Christian country, Christmas and Easter, two of the "main" holidays, are pretty much the same thing as in the US, with some small differences: for example, Santa Claus, Christmas trees and decoration of houses with christmas lights (traditions mostly "imported" from American culture and media) are part of the Brazilian Christmas celebration. Of course, when it's a sweltering 40 deg. C (104 F.) outside, it's kind of hard to see Santa as plausible: you really feel sorry for the Santa-guys decked out in the shopping centers in mini-north pole dioramas complete with elves and tiny reindeer, getting their pictures taken with a steady stream of sweaty little kids.

Some other older traditions, however, have survived the cultural onslaught: in Brazil, kids leave their shoes beside the bed to receive their presents instead of hanging stockings by the fireplace (who has a fireplace in Brazil? Or stockings, for that matter?).

Strangely, Easter in Brazil shares with the US all of the Spring pagan fertility symbolism that are apparently part of the common European origins: rabbits, eggs, flowers; this, in spite of the fact that in Brazil, Easter marks the beginning of Autumn! Decoration of eggs is not part of the tradition, but the giving of chocolate Easter eggs drives a huge industry.

Halloween is another major holiday tradition in the USA that, over the last few years, has been gradually growing in stature in Brazil. It's in the process of being imported on a grass roots level, largely due to the fact that English courses in Brazil have often made Halloween parties part of their curriculum. Kids hitting the streets for "Trick-or-Treat" is not part of the Brazilian Halloween, but costume parties, complete with witches, ghosts, monsters (not to mention a few Bin Ladens and George Bush's!) have become common.

All of this, in spite of the fact that there is also a strong movement against Halloween by some nationalistic Brazilian groups that oppose further encroachment of American cultural traditions. Some of these groups claim only to be defenders of traditional brazilian culture and language, seeing the influx of foreign ways as threatening to overwhelm local traditions, while others see the massive invasion of American media and culture as a form of "cultural imperialism" that seeks to spread American political influence by promoting the American Way of Life globally.

While there is probably some truth to both claims, common sense currently seems to be the more prevalent attitude among most Brazilians: neither to deny foreign cultural influence, nor permit the extinction of local cultural traditions. Brazilians have a very strong national and cultural identity, and many aspects of Brazilian culture are known worldwide (Brazilian music, dance and Carnaval, for example). Other local traditions, such as the June Festival (Festa Junina), which is kind of a hillbilly fair with dance and food, are still as popular as ever. It's the closest thing to the Fourth of July celebration as we know it, although it doesn't involve much in the way of fireworks.

As popular as ever, I say, but of course, many Brazilians complain that the traditional holidays are no longer what they once were: they have become more commercial, less "amateur". In the past, the whole neighborhood would get together and organize a "block party"; this has become rare, as have the local neighborhood Carnaval celebrations. It's easy for some Brazilians to see these changes as the result of outside influence, but for me, it's just part of a global phenomenon. Not just excessive commercialization, but many other factors, not the least of which is heightened security concerns. Thirty years ago you wouldn't think twice about letting your kids roam free in a neighborhood block party; but in these troubled times, unless there's a wall around it and security checkpoint at the gate, there ain't gonna be no party.

So that brings me back to Fourth of July. It's been fifteen years since I've been in the USA on the 4th, and even back then the celebration had already changed much. Sure, you still have massive fireworks displays (we also have them in Brazil on New Years Eve!). And you still have summer picnics and celebrations... but what about the rest? I'm asking this sincerely, because I really don't know. How much has changed in fifteen years? Fireworks tents? Bottle-rockets? Firecrackers? Roman Candles? I don't think it can possibly be the same as it was when we were growing up.

I can't see me giving my kids bottle-rockets to play with, even if they are still legal in some areas. Sometimes I wonder what our parents were thinking of! How lucky were we that we got off with little more than an occasional powder burn and some ringing in the ears?

And yet, I can't help but look back with an ovewhelming sense of nostalgia and think: Man! Those were some good times! The Innocent Days! How lucky we were to have a pyromaniac for a father and a Mom that wasn't overly uptight about kids getting burned or burning down the house!

Anyway... hope you all have a safe and fun Fourth of July!


At July 05, 2005 6:02 PM, Kim said...

The 4th of July for our family has, over the last several years, become a party not just on one day but spans over 8 days starting on the 1st. My twin sister Kristi lives in Bonner Springs at the Lake of the Forest - which is a private community.
Out at the Lake, they start with porch suppers, pie baking contests and golf games. Whatever weekend night is before the 4th (this year it was on the 2nd) they have a street dance where they block of the street around their clubhouse, bring in a DJ, and everyone dances the night away with drinks-in-hand. They only allow fireworks to be set off on the 3rd and 4th, but those roadside tents you wonder about are still there and are now laughing hysterically at all of us FOOLS that come in and buy, buy, buy as they count their money and begin planning for next year.
So for two days you don't sleep after 8 am or before 11 pm because everyone is shooting off fireworks. The drinking starts about that early too (for those who drink!). The main mode of transportation is a golf cart, and everyone knows everyone. Each day has specific events: a carnival for the kids, 4 man scrambles, Glo-Ball (golf at night with glowing golf ball), Tin-Man race (mini-marathon), tug-of-rope, float-a-rama, and much, much more. And all of it is protected by security at the entrance. If you aren't on the list, you don't get in.

It seems to me that this whole thing I am describing sounds alot like what you write about. It does still live, albeit in a tiny community. Where we live, fireworks are illegal. In fact, my friend got ticketed for lighting smoke bombs and sparklers in his driveway.

The gist of it is, you can love your country, and you can celebrate your country's independence, but you have to find a new way to celebrate because the old way is too dangerous. Whatever.

Of course, I AM that uptight mom, but when you have 6 kids and 3 or 4 irresponsible adults all trying to light fireworks in a small space (as opposed to a large field) it's tough NOT to be uptight, especially when I have lurking in the back of my head that unfortunate incident about 7 years ago when I was sitting in the ER with my almost 2 year old waiting for my husband as he was being treated for a concussion, a broken arm, and getting stitches above his eye. Been paranoid ever since. Now that the kids are getting older and running around with lit punks and lighters its worse.
One day, I'll relax. Until then, maybe I should drink like the rest of them!!

At July 06, 2005 10:57 PM, Anonymous said...

Kyle turned 7 this year so I let him on one of our great 4th of July traditions. Stuffing grasshoppers (and other assorted critters) into a rocket, proceeding with countdown, and blasting them off to outer space (or the hay barn if the rocket happened to fall over prior to lift off). We're going to the lake this weekend...I'm thinking we've got to try it!

At July 07, 2005 1:57 AM, Jim said...


It's heartening to know that there are still pockets of tradition, where you can have fun, get drunk, and blow your fingers off without fear of legal problems, just like in the olden-days!


You shouldn't go telling these stories! When you combine this with my snail and Sam stories, people are going to think I'm some kind of sadistic animal abuser!

When I think of the Fourth of July, I think of the Lake (and farm)... how many gross of bottle rockets did we shoot into the lake over the years? How about the cool sound and flash of light of an M-1000 going off beneath the surface of the water? I think I need to plan on being up there with the kids next year around the Fourth! Yeah!

At July 07, 2005 11:04 PM, Greg said...

I stopped by the fireworks warehouse today and loaded up for this weekend. No M-1000's, just M-150's but I bought a bunch. I'm passing on this tradition if it kills me...or atleast seriously injures me.

At July 10, 2005 10:10 PM, Anonymous said...

Anonymous 2,
Jim, everythings the same here at the farm, in respect to Independence Day, except fireworks are bigger and louder. Think they use dynamite now, beginning about June 15th. Huge tents of fireworks everywhere, tons of "weekend warriors" invading and staying and staying and staying. You and your family are welcome anytime!
Enjoying your blog! Didn't know you were an author.
(I DIDN'T know what you and Greg were up to with those bottle rockets. I was too worried about your dad blowing us ALL up!


Post a Comment

<< Home