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What Independence Day Means To Me


Well, I exaggerate. An honest answer would be, "Independence Day means that all the editorial folks in my US publishers are taking a long weekend, anything I buy from will probably be delayed, and the interwebbytubething is not providing me with its normal output of schizophrenic brain drippings." But you get the picture: today, July 4th, is an ordinary working day like any other.


Well, I'm not American. I don't live in the United States. I live in the country that lost the toss when the USA declared independence. Consequently, independence day is an un-event, ignored for much the same reason that the US doesn't have a public holiday to celebrate its triumphant military victory in Vietnam. ("Pay no attention to the noisy colonials; carry on as usual.")

On the other hand, Independence Day does carry some associated freight. It lies not the public holiday, but in the historic event it commemorates: the moment when the second major rupture between the English-speaking peoples and their government came to a head. (The first such moment, interestingly, doesn't rate a public holiday either in the USA or the UK: it remains politically controversial to this day; but without this shocking precedent the political establishment of the New England colonies, never mind their progress towards independence, would have taken a very different course.)

And, glibly leap-frogging across thirty years of history, it can be argued that without the US War of Independence the French monarchy wouldn't have mortgaged itself into a smoking hole in the ground; there would have been no revolutionary republic: no Emperor Napoleon: and the whole shape of politics and history throughout Europe (which in this context stretches from Lisbon to Vladivostok) would be unrecognizably different today.

So: Independence Day — an un-holiday — Declaration of Independence of the United States of America — the second domino in a chain that is still collapsing in thunder to this day, rattling through the annals of history.

What holidays do you celebrate that other people see differently? And why?



It would be possible to consider the signing of Magna Carta as the first major rupture althought the definition of government and people is somewhat looser. A holiday celebrating this event might be useful at the moment.


Well I certainly celebrate Independence day even though I'm British. That might have something to do with my bosses being in America though - If they're not in then they won't know I'm not in either and I can slope off from work early. I'm actually having a glass of champaign at the moment and I'll be in the pub within the hour.

Happy Fourth of July everyone! (burp)


McGonagall Day. 24th April.

Stovies, paper and comb music, bunnets and scarfs.


The apocryphal tale goes that we Venezuelans do not celebrate our Independence Day on the 4th but the 5th because the ink was still wet on the parchment. The intention was to have it on the same day of the gringo declaration... If true, 'tis sad the date was overshot. Just thinking about Chavez decreeing an Official Change of Independence Day from July 4th to his birthday or any other non-sensical day makes me crack up (not unreasonable btw: a few years ago Chavez moved the Capital of Venezuela for one day to brown-nose Fidel, who was visiting the country in time for his birthday - the move was Chavez's gift).

Kind regards,


I like to celebrate the solstices, when I remember. mainly the spring solstice, the coming of good weather and longer days (not that I hug trees - well sometimes maybe. but only if no-one is looking).

charlie - good work on the new book deal, will be looking forward to some more laundry fun!


Another date that means nothing to you: 17 May which is the date of the signing of the Norwegian constitution of 1814. But it's also become a de facto celebration of the independence from Sweden (7 June 1905) and VE Day (8 May 1945). The high point of the day is the children's parades.

It's a big day, though enthusiasm has seemed to be dropping off in recent years. Perhaps ironically, immigrants seem to be doing better at celebrating.

The Swedes may not see it differently, but a few have expressed open envy because they've never managed to have a national celebration like we do.


Bastille Day - because it's my brother's birthday! Back when and I were young children, we were here in France for his brithday and he loved the fact that everyone was celebrating his birthday.

Also, Christmas, like so many others, I'm an aetheist but still celebrate Christmas as a time to be with family.


May 1, my birthday, celebrated thought out the world a labor day, except here in the US where the powers that be moved it to September. Wouldn't do to celebrate the


I have a tough time not seeing Easter as a sham holiday. Not only at it's core is it a full throated assault on reason (the ressurection of jesus); the actual holiday is so far removed from the original myth that it defies the ability to rationalize. Egg laying Easter Bunny? What the fuck?


(Image of Jeremy asking "What does that have to do with the bunny?")

Cinco de Mayo has become a day for Americans to drink bad beer. St. Swithen's Day hasn't been the same since Doctor in the House left syndication.

Bastille Day is still nice, though it's less significant since the peloton stopped making certain a French rider won that day's stage.

Having a Labour Day where no one is supposed to work still seems a bit odd.

And I guess we no longer celebrate Arbor Day, having decided that the only good true is one used for firewood.


" I live in the country that lost the toss when the USA declared independence."

Actually, you won. You had to keep the King, but we had to keep the Puritans.


July 4th means I've got a horrible cold.

(Every year for the past six without fail. No idea why.)


Don Quijote, snap! except they don't celebrate May Day here in the UK either.

(Neither do they celebrate my other birthday, even though they could celebrate the surrender of Napoleon or something like that, or even the founding of Boeing.)


I personally still go in for new years eve. Just because it doesn't shroud itself for anything more than it is.

A good reason to celebrate that our esteemed leaders haven't nuked/biowar'd/locked us all up! And we've made it to another arbitrary date point alive.

At the rate stuff's going, that's a good enough reason for a bevvy of bevies for me!


Here in Germany probably the most anomalous day is the 9th November, which is not an official holiday. It would have been the favored choice for the national holiday, since this was the day the Berlin wall fell. Unfortunately it is also the day of the Hitler-Ludendorff-putsch and, most important, the day of the infamous Kristallnacht. So they had to take another day (3rd October) as the national holiday. But the speeches given on 9th November are generally met with much more interest. Also, the combination makes for a very interesting mood, since of course no speaker can afford to mention only one of the events. 3rd October, on the other hand, would be forgotten fast if it were not a free day.


I'm probably one of the few people in the US without any Polish connections who notices when its the 3rd of May.


How about the German 9/11 (read: 9th of November).

the beer hall putsch in 1923 (known in German as Hitler-Ludendorff-Putsch) - it failed, but was a first sign of the things that would come in 1938 - the "Reichskristallnacht" when synagogues were burned, Jews arrested and murdered - the first manifestation of the antisemitism that swept the country for the following years

but also:

Two revolutions

1918 - getting rid of our last Emperor Wilhelm II at the end of WWI/the great war

1989 - when the border between the GDR and FRG was opened due to a breakdown in communication between the administration and a representative who thought and said it was effective immediately (Nov. 9th - 6 pm) - it was supposed to be opened on Nov 10th - 4am)

Needless to say that, despite the importance of the day, it is not celebrated at all. (Much like July 4th and the glorious US victory in Vietnam you mentioned) The German Unity Day - the closest to a national holiday we have - is October 3rd, which was somewhat arbitrarily chosen and is in fact best known for the fact that it is being celebrated as the German Unity Day since 1990 ...


I celebrate Independence Day about halfway, with reservations: 25% reservations on behalf of the Tory ancestors who fled Long Island for New Brunswick and sidled back into Maine 100 years later; 18.75% reservations on behalf of the Confederate ancestors who found that the 1776 version of independence was no longer on offer; and 6.25% on behalf of the Cherokee ancestors who got nothing but reservations.

I seem to notice solstices more than most, but celebration doesn't extend farther than a seasonally inflected meal.


Serraphin: Plus, New Year's Eve has been the same date for well over two thousand years, since it was the Romans who established January 1 as the first day of the year. That's a bit more pedigree than your Johnny-come-lately nationalistic holidays have, eh?


On a tangent: I once read a claim (by the Australian writer David Malouf) that the key differences between the British and American cultures come from the fact that the American colonies were founded before the English Civil War, and thus inherited a more earnest, zealous version of Englishness, without the world-weariness, understatement and richly developed sense of irony that followed such an upheaval.


My sister celebrates Darwin's birthday.

Regarding Independence Day, I think the rest of the Anglosphere should be happy we seceded. If there was some sort of united globe-spanning federal British Commonwealth today, half the electorate would be (US) American. Prime Minister Bush, anyone? :)


acb @20: s/English Civil War/British Civil Wars/ (note the plural).

They only gave Charles Stuart the ultra-close haircut the third time he started up a civil war, in a sequence that killed something like 10% of the entire population (compared to the 2-3% killed in the American Civil War [singular]).

tp1024: Kristalnacht was hardly the first manifestation of Nazi anti-semitism (see, for example, the Nuremberg Laws of 1935), but it certainly marked a turning point.

Andrew @21: the flip side of that coin is that half the voters in such a commonwealth would be so far to the left of the contemporary US center that they'd consider Barack Obama to be a right wing ideologue. (As indeed he is, in policy terms -- albeit a much smarter and more thoughtful one than Bush.)


mainly the spring solstice

Nghh, spring equinox, please. I like the solstices too, they have a sort of astronomical reality lacking from sundry accretions like Christmas and New Year, the preparations for which always seem to disrupt any chance of celebrating the winter one properly.


I know nothing about American Independence, absolutely nothing, apart from this:

Last year I sat a course at Uni called 'The Enlightenment'. It was a killer mix of history and philosophy e.g. Descartes (Discourse on Method), Rousseau (Discourse on Inequality), those kind of page turners.

In the last term we studied the American Declaration of Independence as a text, looking for specific writing techniques.

When we got up to the bit that says: 'He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.'

... My teacher said, 'It's all just a little vulgar don't you think.'

We all agreed.


@23: I add to the equinoxes + solstices crowd, equally because of their a-historic quality and because of the nicer myths in the pagan field.


I think most annual event "celebrations" are pointless as they are less celebration and more just parties. A celebration should at least have some component of explaining why teh event is happening.

When I was young and my parents did the Jewish Seder night, there were several explanations made of why we were celebrating that night and what the symbology of the foods signified.


Re #22: The case has been made that there was one great war in three phases: English Civil War, American Revolutionary War, American Civil War.

My son carries 3 passports, one of my brothers married a gal from Mexico, another brother adopted an orphan from Brazil, so I am not a naive American Exceptionalist. I do think that America shall be remembered for 1000 years, after (as Feynman says about the 19th entury's great unification by the Scotsman James Clerk Maxwell) the American Civil War has dwindled into provincial insignificance, that the USA shall be remembered for these accomplishments: * Inventing Baseball * Inventing Jazz * Inventing Rock & Roll * First human on Moon * Human genome project

"Very little is known about the War of 1812, because the Americans lost it." [Eric Nicol, Say Uncle, 1961]

"America is the only nation in history which miraculously has gone directly from barbarism to degeneration without the usual interval of civilization." [Georges Clemenceau]

"In America, through pressure of conformity, there is freedom of choice, but nothing to choose from." [Peter Alexander Ustinov]

Yet I still consider myself a patriot, and shall celebrate today.


A Saturn's Child cartoon for your enjoyment:


RE no. 27 The USA invented baseball? Hardly. It was called Rounders here in Britain, and still is. Basketball, however I'll give you. (Not to mention lacrosse, but you probably don't want to talk about that one.)

And I'm not sure about the human genome project. Wasn't that a world-wide effort?


Being contra-theistic, and as seemingly every public/bank holiday on this side of the Atlantic seems to have devolved into yet another excuse to salute/suck off the Armed Forces -- Mars Day, anyone? -- I'll stick with Valentine's Day or better, its pre-christian incarnation, Lupercalia. Any excuse for licentiousness...


Well, I celebrate Seollal and Chuseok (the 1st day of the first month of the lunar year, and the 15th day of the 8th month of the lunar year) a little differently than those around me. Those around me, here in Korea, pile into trains (if they're lucky, even if it means sitting on the floor of the aisle on newspaper, or on the arm of a stranger's seat, for 4 hours straight) or buses (if they're unlucky) or cars (in-between) and travel to their hometowns for ancestor worship commemoration ceremonies involving tons of food and overeating. Travel times are multiples of normal -- a normally 3 hour drive can be 12 or 15 hours or more. At least one person from most families visits the hometown of the paternal grandparents. At least one (usually female) member of every family cooks like made.(Well, and lots of housewives having nervous breakdowns.) After three or four days of being hectored by relatives to get ajob/get married/have a baby/have another baby/have a male child already dammit/get a beter job/etc., people go back home a few pounds heavier (multiples of travel time again) and the next day is normally the most unproductive workday you can imagine as everyone, sluggish and exhausted, vows dishonestly to himself or herself not to turn up next time.

Me, I order a pizza (or make one) and crack open a nice wheat beer and enjoy a movie or two. Well, usually. I imagine when I marry my fiancée, a Korean, I'll be sucked into the insanity a little more, though, at least while we're in-country. But then again, it'll be all-you-can-eat kimchi and sweet songpyeon.



er, cooks like mad, that is.


@31: sounds like Christmas in Germany, minus the ancestor worshipping.


Re #27, #29:

First, this is Charles Stross's soapbox, not mine. Hence I apologize if I was cryptic, compressed, or inaccurate.

Baseball and Cricket have a common ancestor, as with soccer and American and Canadian Football. Basketball was invented, early December 1891, by Dr. James Naismith, a Canadian physical education student and instructor in Springfield, Massachusetts, USA, by systematic exploration (cf. Wolfram's NKS] of a subspace of Fritz Zwicky's Ideocosm, as was the saxophone, that family of woodwind instruments invented by Adolphe Sax. All inventions link back to prior art, as does all fiction. The human genome project was indeed a world-wide effort, springing from in the early 1970s methods of Sanger in England and Walter Gilbert and Allan Maxam at Harvard, but captained by Americans, and first rigorously proposed by American Leroy Hood when he was Chair of Biology at Caltech, before Bill Gates brought him to Seattle.

America has much for which to apologize, as with the native Americans per your comment about Lacrosse, but I stand by that for which it can be proud, and immortal. So I celebrate.

"When the sparks fell down in beards of stars... Fireworks are called hannabi, which means 'flower fire.' Fireworks hung dissolving earrings on the night."

[Angela Carter, A Souvenir of Japan, 1974]


I note the solstices and equinoxes -- they mark the changes of seasons (and the true year) -- and I spend Memorial Day thinking of all who have died for the country (many of whom shouldn't have). I also, with friends, mark the birthdays of dead friends by eating their favorite foods (so far, all chocolate cake).

And I really shouldn't celebrate this: Jesse Helms died today.


Here in the U.S., I'm guessing Columbus Day isn't all that popular on most Indian reservations.


my birthday. It's Nov. 5, Guy Fawkes Day(not a brit, just saying).

38: 31, sounds like my mom's at Christmas. Even though we all bring food and help her in the kitchen, she always overachieves and she's 83.

Tonight, I'm 'still' listening to fireworks despite 1) they're illegal in my municipality and 2) it's 11:45 p.m. Central Daylight Time in Kansas City, MO.

I'm extremely glad that it is wet (locations across our metropolis got between 5 and ten inches of rain Wednesday night) and that my house has a fire-resistant roof.


I celebrate pi day. In the US date system that is 3/14, march 14th. Every year I get a bunch of pies for my friends and make my morning run 3.14 (about) miles. Of course... noone else ever seems to care.


@13: O yes we do celebrate May Day here in the UK! Not only are there all sorts of interesting folk-type celebrations on May Day itself (singing in the dawn from the top of Magdalen Tower, the May Day 'Obby 'Oss in Padstow etc), we even have an official Bank Holiday on the first Monday in May. Its association with labour derives from the fact that in England it was the date of one of the annual hire fairs, when farm workers put themselves up for hire. And, since not much actual work could go on while these workers were out selling themselves, it was a good excuse for a party as well.


I threw a party to celebrate my billionth second. This caught on, among some of my friends. It's pretty easy to calculate, once you remember leap years.

You can approximate with the estimate of how many seconds in a year: 10 * pi * (10^7) = 314159265, or calculate exactly:

1 hour = 3600 seconds; 1 day = 86400 seconds; 1 year = 31536000 seconds

A leap year is 366 days = 8784 hours = 527040 minutes = 31622400 seconds.

how many years does it take to reach 1,000,000,000 seconds? Well, 31 x 31,536,000 = 977,616,000 and 32 x 31,536,000 = 1,009,152,000.

So 31 years is not enough, and 32 years is too much. Also annoying is that different months have different numbers of seconds. Then there are those pesky leap seconds now and then as the oceans reduce the earth's rotation speed.

And then, at the party, you discuss why most mammals live about a billion heartbeats, but humans can triple that.

Transhumanists look forward to celebrating their one trillion second birtrhdays, I suppose.


Well, I guess that none of you have an un-holliday like us, Brazilians: Dom Pedro de Alcântara, son of Dom João VI, declared the independence of Brazil from Portugal in Sept 7th and became the first of the two Brazilian emperors. So, we became independent of Portugal but kept a Portuguese emperor just to hold things (most of all slavery) like it was before... Later, in 1888, as abolition became inevitable, Pedro II suddenly became unpopular and, in 1889 in a coup d'Etat republic was proclaimed. Just to keep things as they were before...


Here in the States, Flag Day -- commemorating the adoption of the flag of the United States -- is celebrated on June 14.

One might think that in the hyper-patriotic United States, the only holiday more redundant than 'Flag Day' would be 'Day Day', but that would not take into account the twin U.S. holidays -- 'Veterans Day' and 'Memorial Day'.

Thank you. Good night. And may gawd bless the United States of America.

-- SCAM so-called "Austin Mayor"

44: 29 et al:

The European who first observed lacrosse was Jean de Brebeuf, a Jesuit missionary. Since Brebeuf operated in what is now Canada, Canadians claim lacrosse as their own invention-- conveniently taking credit for an invention made by the Hurons or Iroquois.

And as for de Brebeuf, he came to a sticky end, tortured to death by the Iroquois in 1649 (only a few months after Charles I was shortened by a head). Interestingly enough, his feast day is October 19th. Since he is the patron saint of Canada, that makes October 19th the Canadian equivalent of St. Patrick's day.

I mention this to others as an excuse to drink uncoloured Canadian Beer, but no-body seems interested....


Actually, Charles, as an Englishman you may (or not) celebrate the 4th of July as that was the event that saved the British empire from collapse sometime in the 1820s.

Consider if you will the colonial policies in place in the 1770s. In terms of economics all trade by the colonies with the rest of the world had to go through Britain. The colonists were to be hewers of wood and drawers of water for the home country. The ideal was the Spanish Empire.

In terms of religion, the goal was orthodoxy. In the 1760s one of the Carolinas legislature allowed the creation of a methodist teaching college. The British Parliament vetoed that. The then Archbishop of Cantebury was the same fellow who had tried to convert the heathen in America. In Cambridge, MA, in fact.

Politically, Britain wanted something like the Irish situation.

Had the British government won and hanged the signers, Washington, et al., it would have continued those policies. However, those policies lost Britain its most prized possession. They did not make those mistakes again in Canada, Australia, NZ.


The most prized possessions for the British government at the time of the American War of Independence were the spice islands of the Caribbean. It was pressure from the French against those which caused the divertion of British military effort away from the US colonies which allowed the success of the seperatist faction within the US colonies. Guerilla wars seldom succeed without significant external support.

The focus of trade of colonies through the home country was a feature of all of the European empires of the time, Spanish, Portugese, French and British.

Without the French stirring the succesionist pot perhaps a situation akin to Ireland would have been arrived at with American representation in the British Parliment.

To get the correct view of the times, think of a series of major wars running between Britain and France driven by competition for trade and religious differences from 1750 to 1815. Britain came out on top of this all with the defeat of Napoleon and occupation of France by Allied powers following Waterloo.

It was this victory against France that allowed the growth and flowering of the British Empire - the independence of the US was neither here nor there in the scheme of things. Britain was the US's major trading partner and investor right the way through the nineteenth Century.

-- Andrew


Andrew G @ 21: nah, well over half the electorate would be Indian. Which, I think, would be a good thing. India is, after all, the greatest democracy on earth, so they seem to get it pretty much right ;-)


zach @9 The Easter bunny is hare. Hare's have scrapes rather than burrows, and the scrapes were confused with ground nesting birds that also lived in the wheat fields. So that's where the eggs come from. Eostre herself was celebrated at the spring equinox and all that implies. English is one of the few languages that retains the old name rather than some version of Passover, and thus the usual confusion reigns.


Charlie @ 22 Which three wars are you counting?

First and Second Civil Wars obviously, but what is the third? The Third Civil war was 1650-51 and took place entirely after the execution of Charles I so it's not that. Are you counting the Confederate War in Ireland or the First or Second Bishop's Wars or the Scottish Civil War?


The Scottish one.


The war of 1812 was fought by the Americans because the British kept interfering with American ships and sailors. After the Americans forced the British to switch to convoys (with the attendant one third cut in logistical efficiency and increase in shipping costs) to avoid losing their merchant marine to American privateers, the British cut their losses. After all, the Americans weren't selling them cheap food when they were at war, and they kept the Canadians and Caribbeans under de facto privateer blockade. It just wasn't economical. So they gave the British sailors enough of a pay increase that they didn't to impress American sailors to make up the crews. There were a few battles along the way, but the British gave up their claim to lands south of the Great Lakes and withdrew their forces to north of the Great Lakes. But American never did annex Canada, Bermuda, the Bahamas, and Australia. We never freed Ireland, either. Call it a draw. We got even for the aggravation they gave us between 1783 and 1812, but no net gain.


I read a story by Jules Verne last night: "2889" where the British Isles had been annexed to America as a colony.


That's OK - we'll politely ignore Guy Fawkes Day and William Wallace's birthday.

(By the way, who is that guy, Fawkes?)

J Vos Post: that 1 year = 31557600 S, and pi*10^7 = 31415926.5358979, and the ratio is 1.0045, is just a little too scary.

On the other hand, since birthday parties usually last a day, it reasonably follows that "billionth second parties" ought to last one second. Ooops - missed it!

Grant: "I celebrate pi day. In the US date system that is 3/14,..." Shouldn't it really be July 22 (22/7)? Still got a few weeks to make things right.


You may find this blog entry about Independence Day interesting, and possibly even enlightening:


Mr. Stross,

Concerning American independence, have you ever read "The Two Georges". IMHO an average book but an interesting concept:

After Lexington and Concord cooler heads prevail. Lord North's ministry falls, the king is safely insane and can't interfere, and an American delegation negotiates not just a peace treaty but a new constitution for British America and Canada. At this point, few Americans (except radicals like Tom Payne) thought in terms of independence. Most were fighting for their rights as Englishmen.

So fast forward to the 1960s and the British Empire (which includes Americans proud and happy to be British subjects) still covers half the globe. Combined with America, the BE is too powerful for Kaiser Bill to trifle with, so no Great War. Also, there has been no French revolution, so France is still a monarchy and the Bourbon empire of France and Spain has a colonial empire as great as Britain's.

No WWI means no great depression, no fascism, no nazism, no communism (a tsar still rules Russia and an emperor still reigns in China as does the sultan in Ottoman Turkey), no WWII, ...

...and no 10s of millions killed by war, gulags and concentration camps.

It also means less scientific advancement without the stimulus war gives to research. Travel is by air ship and radio and motor cars are just becoming popular. But the world has enjoy the Pax Brittanica for over 200 years.

So using 20:20 hindsight can we conclude that the American revolution was a big mistake?



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This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on July 4, 2008 9:53 AM.

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