The time-honored tradition can take a mental toll on some, but there are other ways to paint the town red, white, and blue.
It’s officially summer, and that means Fourth of July celebrations are almost here!
Whether you’re firing up the barbecue, or your festive red, white, and blue outfit is ironed and ready to wear, it’s important to pencil in a few fun-filled activities the entire family will love. For some, that means skipping the fireworks show. The time-honored tradition can take a mental and physical toll on adults and veterans who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, children with sensory sensitivities, and pets (particularly dogs), our experts tell us.
Why are 4th of July fireworks triggering for some people (and pets)?
The loud pops and crackles, the sparkling lights, and the sweeping crowds that typically gather to watch fireworks can be trauma reminders, “especially for someone who is or was in military combat, or who has witnessed or been involved in any gun violence,” says Ruth Ellingsen, a licensed psychologist and clinical assistant professor at the University of Oregon. “It brings the person back to that traumatic event,” she explains. “In their body, it really feels like they’re back there and it can lead to a lot of agitation.”
Fireworks can also wreak havoc on children who have difficulty processing information related to their senses — mainly hearing. The child can feel overwhelmed, anxious, and emotionally distressed, explains Dr. Barbara Greenberg, a clinical psychologist who specializes in the treatment of adolescents, children, and families. “They will get anxious, melt down, they might start screaming, crying, or trying to flee,” she says.
If you are planning to watch fireworks, do us a favor and leave Fido at home. Dogs can hear sound up to four times as far away as their owners can, so the loud noise can agitate and upset them. “Keep dogs away from fireworks as much as you can. If you can’t because you’re in an apartment or house and the neighbors are setting off fireworks, try to comfort them, hold them tightly, or stroke them,” Dr. Greenberg says.
How should you comfort a child or loved one who gets upset by fireworks?
It all starts with having a plan. For adults, knowing what to expect and coming up with a coping plan ahead of time — whether that’s leaving the situation or wearing noise-canceling headphones to reduce the explosive sound effects — can help minimize the trauma-reminding effects.
“We all do better when we’re prepared for something that’s going to be upsetting,” says Dr. Greenberg. “Make sure your kid gets a good nights’ sleep on July 3rd. Any stressed out child becomes more stressed out when they’re tired.”
Limiting exposure, explaining what’s going on, letting them hold on to a beloved toy or blanket, or sitting with them in safe space are other ways to soothe a concerned child, Dr. Greenberg tells us.
Or, just skip the fireworks altogether! The good news is that there are plenty of fireworks-free ways to celebrate America’s birthday! We’ve rounded up 8 fun ideas to help get you and the family into a patriotic spirit.
Independence Day Celebration Ideas Without Fireworks
1. Make it a (patriotic) movie marathon night
Tell us: what’s more comforting than snuggling up on the couch (fresh popcorn in hand, of course) to watch your all-time favorite flicks? Ask each family member or friend to jot down the movies they love (and probably know every line to) onto a piece of paper, toss the suggestions in a hat or bowl, and pick them out one by one. Voilà, no need for endless scrolling trying to figure out what to watch. Plus, you’re bound to watch a few fan-favorites. Want to acknowledge the holiday with your picks? Try Independence Day, Hamilton, or Harriet. No judgment here on how many movies you get through!
2. Visit a local historic site
Check out the National Register of Historic Places to find a local historic monument or unique site in your community. It may surprise you how much U.S. history is waiting to be discovered just miles away from your home. Many are also free to visit! Plus, it’s a great way to learn the history of your own town or city.
3. Head to the beach
Make the day feel like a true vacation by getting out on the water. Pack up the cooler (don’t forget some festive koozies), load up on sunscreen, and cool off from the summer heat by riding the waves. If lounging in a beach chair all day isn’t your thing, get creative with beach games. Spikeball, which packs neatly into a transportable drawstring bag, is super-easy to set up and play. We’ll bet that it will immediately become a family favorite.
4. Party with sparklers
A less extreme alternative to fireworks? Sparklers! Light up the night with pretty sparklers in the backyard (but be sure to supervise children if they want to get in on the action).
5. Set up a croquet match in the yard
Drum up some backyard sports entertainment with a competitive croquet match. Separate into two teams (or play one-on-one) and offer fun prizes to the winning team (a new Spikeball set, anyone?) Just be sure to encourage everyone to get in on the game!
6. Put a red, white, and blue twist on food
It’s fun to view life through rose-colored glasses, but on the Fourth of July? Turn those lenses red, white, and blue and create a feast of colorful food that matches the spirit of the holiday. From cupcakes to fruit skewers, the opportunities are endless. Gathering around the patio to enjoy your culinary masterpieces will be well worth it.
7. Sip on beer at a local brewery
There’s something quintessentially American about drinking a beer. Even popular country stars — from Luke Bryan to Kenny Chesney — can’t help themselves from singing about the ice-cold drink. Support a local brewery (some even offer tastings or tours) and make a toast to Independence Day while you’re at it.
8. Join the fun at a local parade
Although the holiday looked a little different last year, we’re thankful to have the chance to celebrate the holiday in-person this year. Many towns are making up for last year by hosting local parades (they’re usually held in the morning or daytime and without fireworks). Bring mini-sized American flags to wave in celebration of the national holiday!