Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Preparing An Independence Day To Remember

The USA has a birthday that’s just around the corner, and it’s time to think about how we’re going to celebrate.
Here are some tips to help create a delightful and delicious 4th of July gathering.

Decorate with Vintage Americana
I like my 4th of July decorations to make a statement. Over the years, I’ve acquired a collection of vintage flags and Americana, which I mix and match with newer decorations and dinnerware. I find that incorporating vintage and antique decorations into the mix adds some soul to the aesthetic of the event.

There are numerous inventive ways you can decorate with your flags—place smaller flags in a vase as a centerpiece on your table, or use an extra large flag as a tablecloth.

You can collect vintage flags and decorations at flea markets or your local vintage store. You can also find some gems online at sites like Etsy and even eBay.

Always have a set of 12 white dinner plates and 12 white napkins.  This is one of my little secrets.   Doing this allows you to mix and match salad plates to create hundreds of possible tablescapes, depending on the occasion.  For Independence Day, choose a patriotic-looking or an Americana salad plate.  If you don’t have one, find red or blue---after all, you’ve already got the white in your dinner plates!

Coordinate Your Costumes
To create a more festive feel for the event, encourage your guests to wear red white and blue clothing. The sillier, more flamboyant, and outrageous the clothing, the better.

Make One Special Drink
Make sure to have all the usuals—juice, beer, wine, water, and soda—on hand. In addition, make one special, summer-themed punch. This one drink can bring a surprising amount of cohesion to your meal and the event as a whole. Drinks that feature a refreshing summer fruit like peach, watermelon, or strawberry are always well received on hot days.

American Food with a Twist
Because the 4th of July is all about celebrating America, and America is famous for its cultural and ethnic diversity, take a truly American approach to the holiday by incorporating your family’s food heritage into traditional American dishes. Make hamburgers with the spices traditionally used in your ethnic background. The same thing goes for pies, ice cream toppings, and fruit salads. Prepare a traditional side dish unique to your family’s heritage.   Better yet, ask your guests to showcase their heritage through a side dish they prepare.

Honor US History
When my children were little, one of the things they loved most about the 4th of July was putting on an annual play. In the play, we reenacted important moments in US history. We performed Paul Revere’s famous ride, a scene in which George Washington asks Betsy Ross to sew the American flag, and the Martin Luther King Jr I Have A Dream Speech. We interwove these important events with the story of our own family in America, starting with our ancestors’ arrival to Ellis Island. We always ended the show with a rousing rendition of “Yankee Doodle Dandy.” Putting on a play can start with a fun brainstorming activity in which you ask children to think of important events in America. Later you can turn these into the plot for the play. Pick up a few white wigs and tricorn hats at your local costume store to add to what you have at home, and costumes won’t be too hard to devise.

Good, Old-Fashioned Games
Organizing a few games throughout the day, like croquet, bocce ball, Frisbee, softball, or charades, brings guests together and creates a spirit of conviviality.  On those sweltering Independence Days, have a water balloon toss with the kids.
Every state has different laws when it comes to setting off fireworks, but no 4th of July celebration is complete without a few flashes in the night. At the very least, make sure to have some sparklers.

Family Tradition
Whatever you decide to do, make sure to create family tradition.  Teach your children about their own heritage and how it plays a part of the American Dream.  As I mention in my book, Coming Home: A Seasonal Guide to Creating Family Traditions, celebrating any festive occasion is always richer when personal meaning is attached.

Note:  Photos by John Granen, for “Coming Home,” published by Stewart, Tabori & Chang


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