By Barbara Goldberg
Americans marked their nation’s 245th birthday on Sunday with fireworks that may look brighter, hot dogs that may taste juicier and marching bands that may sound jauntier after the coronavirus pandemic forced the cancellation of nearly all celebrations last year.
As always, fireworks displays are the highlight of the July Fourth holiday. Two of the biggest pyrotechnic shows in the country will blast off over the National Mall in Washington, and over a mile stretch of New York City’s East River, separating Manhattan from the boroughs of Queens and Brooklyn.
This year’s Independence Day holiday, following 600,000 U.S. deaths from COVID-19 and amid a rise in the more aggressive Delta variant, was a time for Americans to show their patriotism and celebrate a personal sense of freedom by mingling with friends again and enjoying summer’s simple pleasures.
It was expected to be the busiest July Fourth road travel holiday on record – with an estimated 43.6 million Americans behind the wheel, or 5% more than a previous record set in 2019, the American Automobile Association said.
At Independence Hall in Philadelphia, first lady Jill Biden told a crowd: “The clouds have broken” after a long, dreary winter of isolation battling COVID-19 along with efforts to meet her husband’s goal of getting 70% of U.S. adults their first shot by July Fourth. The government calculated the number at about 67%, as some people have resisted getting vaccinated.
“We’re not at the finish line yet, but summer has never felt more full of possibility, and doesn’t the air smell so much sweeter without our masks?” the first lady said.
The holiday meant a chance for Aleksandra Magidoff, a 12-year-old girl from Brooklyn, to travel to a New Jersey suburb to reconnect with a lifelong friend and her family. They were among the more than 3.5 million people who have moved out of New York, once the U.S. epicenter of COVID-19, since the pandemic started in the spring of 2020.
“I’m so excited – I can talk to them and celebrate with them and just socialize!” said Magidoff, who was fully vaccinated under the enormous blue whale model at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. The girls planned to gorge on “a bunch of hamburgers and hot dogs” before taking in the fireworks show at a New Jersey fairgrounds, she said.
Last July Fourth, she watched fireworks from her apartment building’s rooftop while under pandemic lockdown, allowed to celebrate with only her immediate family.
On New York’s East River, 50 pyrotechnicians spent days loading more than 65,000 shells on five barges to wow audiences watching the spectacular show either in person or on television. The display is presented by Macy’s department store.
Lighting up the night’s sky not only delights crowds but promises to restore a lifeline this year for the businesses that supply the 16,000 July Fourth fireworks displays that typically occur in cities and towns. Last year, only a “scant few” went on with the show, said Julie Heckman, executive director of the American Pyrotechnics Association.
“Approximately 70% are scheduled to return, and many will be bigger and better than pre-pandemic levels,” Heckman said.