Tonawanda News — “That’s the reason for the season.”
It’s a phrase you hear a lot around Christmastime here in the United States. It can be a gentle way of pointing out the religious reasons behind all the hubbub and shopping, or an angry retort to those who prefer their holiday secular or of a different religious stripe. (Ironically, many of our holidays and traditions here — including those of Christmas and Easter — can be traced back to pagan roots, but that’s a different story.)
Either way, it’s a reminder that there’s history here. These roots go back. There is a purpose behind this.
You don’t hear that phrase much — if at all — around Independence Day. In fact, it’s more commonly referred to simply as the Fourth of July, a name that is about as simply descriptive as it can get.
It’s a holiday of simple traditions, at its core. We oooh and aaaaah at fireworks. We wear our red, white and blue. We stock up on hamburgers and hot dogs, drag out the grill and gather our friends and family to celebrate. Maybe some of us think just a little about the reasons — we type “Happy birthday, America!” on Facebook or hang our U.S. flags outside our homes — but that’s about the extent of it.
Western New York lit up the night skies again this year for the Fourth of July, with fireworks displays throughout the Tonawanda region and beyond. I’ve seen a lot of them myself, from Olean to Lewiston and many places in between. (I think my favorites are still at the University at Buffalo, although I hope to see the Olcott fireworks over Lake Ontario one of these days.) We didn’t get to see much of them this year on the day itself: Small children and morning commitments will do that to you.
So I was glad to see that the Town of Tonawanda shifted its celebration by one day, marking the holiday on July 5 with a ceremony, concert and fireworks at Kenney Field, a place we know well. We wrote it on the calendar, pleased to be able to celebrate the day with fireworks after all.
Because I’ll admit it: That’s what we were thinking of. The fireworks. The concert would be good, too, but with two excitable, energetic little boys, taking them to the ceremony seemed like an accident waiting to happen. I can admit it started with the desire to be respectful; unfortunately, that means I missed something I truly wish I’d witnessed that day.
Negotiating traffic, we arrived at the end of the ceremony, in time to hear the first notes of the concert. Jim started dancing in between the chairs; Sam ran for the playground. I abandoned my husband and mother-in-law to watch them and, camera in hand, headed toward the Veterans Memorial.
One-hundred-and-sixty-eight World War II veterans were honored that day. Many still lingered near the memorial, quietly talking, listening to the band.
The stories they must have. I stood back and watched. People would approach them, make a quiet comment, receive a nod or smile and move on. I didn’t have to be able to read lips to know what they were saying.
We celebrate the Fourth of July here because it’s the anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, the document that announced that the 13 American colonies considered themselves independent of the British Empire. A wartime statement of freedom, at its core.
Who better than those honored Friday to understand that? So many of them saw the freedom of this country (and many others) threatened in a way completely beyond anything we know today. We deal with the trials of terrorism and political division, but they saw what can happen when freedom is truly at stake.
The stories they must have. The things they must have seen.
We enjoyed the concert. The American Legion Band of the Tonawandas was terrific as usual. The fireworks were great. And even the traffic around the event wasn’t as tied up as it could have been. (Thank you, town Community Emergency Response Team.) It was a great way to celebrate Independence Day, one day off the holiday or not.
So thank you, Town of Tonawanda, for reminding us.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” — Preamble to the Declaration of Independence
Jill Keppeler is a writer for the Tonawanda News. She can be reached at email@example.com.Jill Keppeler is a writer for the Tonawanda News. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.