Photo Getty
Photo Getty

Why Do People Celebrate July 4 With Fireworks?

Fireworks have been part and parcel of U.S. Independence Day, the anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, since its first celebration in July 1777. That celebration took place in the midst of the Revolutionary War, however, and explosions, artillery fire, and “bombs bursting in air” were not exactly a cause for joy and celebration at the time. So why did Americans begin celebrating Independence Day with fireworks?

To answer this question, a lot of people point to John Adams’s letter to his wife, Abigail, informing her that the Continental Congress had declared independence: “[This day] ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.”

But pyrotechnics were already a common manner of celebration and thanksgiving, particularly to mark national triumphs and the restoration of peace, and John Adams had little to do with that. How fireworks came to be a central component of Independence Day celebrations in the United States was ultimately the result of hundreds of years of royal pageantry.

The celebratory display of fireworks we know today evolved out of the use of fireworks in romantic performances of combat and in elaborate pageants and plays, typically associated with national events. England’s King Henry VII, whose royal standard bore the Red Dragon, included fireworks at his wedding in 1486, the first known use of fireworks at a national celebration, and his wife’s coronation in 1487 featured a fire-breathing dragon, which became popular in royal fireworks displays during the reign of the Tudors. Queen Elizabeth I (ruled 1558–1603) was so fond of fireworks in performances that she even appointed a royal “Fire Master of England” to coordinate shows. After Robert Catesby’s Gunpowder Plot to blow up Parliament was foiled, fireworks were used locally in the annual commemoration of the event, sometimes called Fireworks Night. By the 18th century the displays had grown particularly extravagant in Europe in proportion to the opulence of rulers such as King Louis XIV and Peter the Great. Thus, by the time of the American Revolution, spectacular displays of fireworks had already become a popular way to celebrate national prosperity and patriotism.

So when the United States declared its independence in 1776, John Adams was not prescribing a novel way to celebrate America’s freedom. “Illuminations” were already a common mode of celebration. Instead, when he wrote to Abigail, he was heralding the birth of the world’s newest nation by invoking one of the most recognizable celebrations of nationhood of his time: fireworks.

Independence Day Fireworks Schedules in Full List

1.New York, New York: Macy’s 4th of July Fireworks

Photo Shutterstock
Photo Shutterstock

Every year, the Big Apple puts on the largest fireworks show in the country. Thousands of fireworks are set off from barges lining the Hudson River. The lights show is accompanied by the New York Pops Orchestra and Mormon Tabernacle Choir. The best viewing spots are along the West Side Highway below 59th Street or, if you’re on the New Jersey side, anywhere along the waterfront in Weehawken and Hoboken.

America's biggest celebration is set to highlight the hero within saluting American bravery and optimism with a jaw-dropping pyrotechnic display live from five barges positioned on the East River in Midtown.

The fireworks will start to light up the night sky around 9:25 p.m. on Sunday, July 4.

This year's Macy's Fireworks show will launch more than 65,000 shells and effects.

"As America commemorates Independence Day, we are thrilled to join the celebration with a spectacular Macy's 4th of July Fireworks display honoring the heroic spirit of our nation," said Will Coss, executive producer of Macy's 4th of July Fireworks. "Live from New York City, five barges positioned on the East River will launch an epic celebration that will inspire a renewed sense of hope and optimism among our fellow New Yorkers and viewers nationwide."

Macy's 4th of July Fireworks first burst onto the New York City sky with a special U.S. bicentennial show in 1976. Since then, Macy's Fireworks have grown in scale and artistry as they burst to life over many of New York City's waterways and neighborhoods.

The 45th edition of Macy's Fireworks is conceived, designed, and produced by Macy's with Pyro Spectaculars by Souza.

2.Washington D.C.: A Capitol Fourth Concert

Fireworks on the National Mall are returning to D.C. The 17-minute display will be held on Sunday, July 4, starting at 9:09 p.m. and will be launched from both sides of the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool.

The National Park Service said that consistent with Centers for Diesease Control guidelines, people who are not fully vaccinated must wear masks indoors and in crowded outdoor spaces on the National Mall. Masks are required for everyone on all forms of public transportation. All the memorials, except the Washington Monument, will be open.

If you’re in the US capital for the Fourth of July, head over to the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol Building for a concert at 8 p.m. Stick around for the fireworks show a little after 9 p.m. launched from the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool. Watching the bright lights illuminate the sky behind the Washington Monument is truly a sight to see.

The 41st annual Capitol Fourth concert on PBS will be pre-recorded, with singer and actress Vanessa Williams serving as host of the event from D.C. The concert will include pre-recorded performances by Jimmy Buffett, Gladys Knight, Alan Jackson, Jennifer Nettles and Renée Fleming. The Capitol Fourth airs on PBS on July 4 from 8 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. ET.

The National Symphony Orchestra will perform John Williams' inspiring composition "Olympic Fanfare" in tribute to Team USA, honoring the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Teams as they prepare for the Olympic Games in Tokyo.

Capping off the concert broadcast on PBS will be live coverage of the fireworks display on the National Mall captured by multiple cameras stationed around the city.

Capitol Hill Community 4th of July Parade

The annual Capitol Hill Community 4th of July Parade on Barracks Row begins at 10 a.m. on July 4. Groups can visit the parade website to register to participate.

"For 2021, we are pleased to announce that we'll be able to hold our traditional parade on Capitol Hill's Barracks Row this year," organizers said.

Palisades Parade

The Palisades Community Association plans to resume its annual Fourth of July parade. The parade starts at noon on July 4 at noon. It starts at the corner of Whitehaven Parkway and MacArthur Blvd. NW and ends at the Palisades Rec Center. Visit the association's website for more information.

Which activities are canceled?

Washington normally starts July 4 with a massive parade near the National Mall, which won’t take place this year. The traditional Capitol Fourth concert, which normally draws a crowd to the Capitol lawn, will instead be prerecorded and aired on television. (In this case, it’s not just because of the pandemic — the Capitol grounds remain fenced off since the Jan. 6 attack on the complex.)

The city of Rockville canceled its festivities, and Takoma Park replaced its normally whimsical parade and its fireworks show with a “parade of houses,” with prizes for the best-decorated facades.

3.Boston, Massachusettes: Boston Pops Concert Fireworks Spectacular

Thousands gather along the Charles River in Boston for their annual 4th of July spectacular. The Boston Pops kick things off at 8 p.m. with the National Anthem and a patriotic sing-a-long. The fireworks start at 10:30 p.m. The best view is from the Esplanade along the Charles River, but if you want to avoid the crowds you can watch them from across the river in Cambridge.

The Boston Symphony Orchestra announced that this year, there will be big adjustments made to its annual Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular. For starters, the concert will be taking place at Tanglewood, the BSO’s summer home in the Berkshires, rather than at The Esplanade’s Hatch Shell.

And as far as the pyrotechnics goes, you can expect a dazzling display—just over Boston Common instead of the Charles River. The two events will run completely independently of each other; Common-goers won’t be seeing any stream of the Pops’ live performance, nor will there be so much as a sparkler happening at Tanglewood.

The BSO, who had to cancel its spectacular in 2020 altogether due to the COVID-19 pandemic, says they plan to return to normal Independence Day programming next year. This time around, though, there simply wasn’t enough lead time to navigate all of the necessary red tape before the Fourth.

Boston Pops conductor Keith Lockhart explains in a statement: “Though health concerns related to the pandemic have abated over the last few weeks, after careful consideration we determined there wasn’t enough time to organize the many forces needed to safely return to the Esplanade and present what is considered one of the largest concert events in the world.”

Firework safety

If you choose to forego the big firework displays around the country and set off your own, know that fireworks are no joke. All fireworks, even those fun novelties, and sparklers can be dangerous when not used safely. According to the 2020 CPSC fireworks safety report, there were an estimated 7,300 injuries just in the one month surrounding the Fourth of July in 2019, and about 2,600 of those injuries happened to kids 14 years old and younger.

Firework safety begins at home, but don’t shoot them off near your house or off your deck. That’s just too close and could start a fire. Fireworks should be lit away from buildings and on a flat, level, hard, and fireproof surface with no debris like trash or vegetation that could catch on fire. Also, don’t light fireworks under power lines or anything combustible, like a propane tank. Keep a bucket full of water close by and a garden hose. Be sure to turn the faucet on and ensure the water is running to the hose, so should you need to, you can put out a fire immediately. To stay safe this year, make sure to follow the firework safety tips below.

4.Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Wawa Welcome America

What better place to celebrate the Fourth of July than right near the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall in Philadelphia? There’s a concert and parade during the day and the fireworks start at 10:30 p.m. at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Philadelphia's firework schedule:

Date: July 4th around 9:30 p.m.

Ben Franklin Parkway at Art Museum

NOTE: People are able to gather from Eakins Oval to Logan Circle starting at 8 p.m. to watch the fireworks

Date: July 4th at 9:15 p.m.

Northeast Philadelphia

Lawncrest Recreation Center

6000 Rising Sun Avenue and Shelbourne Street

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19111

NOTE: Updates will be reflected on their Facebook page

Date: July 16th

After the Phillies game vs. Miami Marlins

Citizen's Bank Park

1 Citizens Bank Way

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19148

Best Places to Watch July 4th Fireworks in Philadelphia

Bank & Bourbon at Loews Philadelphia Hotel

Located in the heart of center city, Bank & Bourbon fuses living history with warm sophistication. This legendary eatery offers guests an expansive drink menu and easy access to the hotel’s stunning 33-floor— the perfect place to kick back with a beer and enjoy the fireworks. Keep in mind that admission will be $15 for adults, but children under 13 will receive free entry. All guests must be visitors of the hotel, or diners at Bank & Bourbon. 1200 Market St., 215.231.7300,

Assembly Rooftop Lounge

Vibrant views and craft cocktails are all the rage at this ravishing rooftop lounge. Located atop The Logan, Assembly boats an exquisite outdoor space with unrivaled glimpses of Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Delectable drinks, like the fabulous frosé, and front-row seats to the fireworks await this Fourth of July weekend. 1840 Benjamin Franklin Pkwy., 215.783.4171,

Cira Green

Escape the ordinary this holiday weekend with a burger and an ice-cold drink in hand at Philadelphia’s park in the sky. From outdoor games to divine dining options, like the Sunset Social, Cira Green is a sublime spot for the family this summer. This lavish outdoor lounge sits 12-stories high in the heart of University City, serving picture-perfect visions of the Schuylkill River. 129 S. 30th St.,

City Cruises

City Cruises is taking the Fourth of July fireworks to the Delaware River this summer. Guests can play games, like giant jenga, or snap a few pictures in the boat’s photo booth. Not to mention, this three-hour cruise offers stunning views of the city skyline, a delicious buffet-style dinner and more. 401 S. Christopher Columbus Blvd., 866.455.3866.,


Open for indoor and outdoor dining on the deck, the legendary Moshulu is the world’s oldest and largest square rigged sailing vessel still afloat. Using the finest local ingredients, this riverfront restaurant is whipping up your favorite American dishes with a modern twist. Sip on a cold glass of sangria as you enjoy picturesque views of the annual Delaware River fireworks this summer. 401 S. Christopher Columbus Blvd., 215.923.2500,

5.Nashville, Tennessee: Let Freedom Sing!

Since last year’s celebration was canceled, this July Fourth will feature the largest fireworks show in Nashville history. Along with the fireworks, there will be a synchronized performance by the Grammy-winning Nashville Symphony. Music fans will not want to miss this.

6.Chicago, Illinois: 4th of July Aon Summer Fireworks

Fireworks displays are pretty common in Chicago as they set them off often throughout the summer season, but the 4th of July fireworks display is certainly the biggest. The fireworks are set off from Navy Pier and the best views are from the Pier, the Ferris wheel on the pier, or Millenium Park.


Blue Ash: Red, White and Blue Ash, 10 p.m., Summit Park, 4335 Glendale-Milford Road. Biggest fireworks display in the region. Concerts and other traditional experiences associated with RW&BA will not take place this year.

Downtown: Fourth of July Celebration, 2-10 p.m., Sawyer Point Park, 705 Pete Rose Way. Live music with Sarah Sugar and the High Crimes 2:30-4 p.m., Crown Watts 4:30-6 p.m., Classic Rock Experience 6:30-8 p.m. and Thunderstruck 8:30-10 p.m. Food and drink vendors on-site, and Rozzi's fireworks at 10 p.m. Sponsored by Cincinnati Parks.

Greendale: 4th of July Celebration, 8 a.m.-9:50 p.m., 5K race at 8 a.m., fishing derby at 10 a.m., bike/golf cart parade at 2 p.m. at Oakey Park, live music, food and drinks booths.

Anderson Township:Red, White and BOOM, 8 p.m., Riverbend Music Center, 6295 Kellogg Ave. Join John Morris Russell and the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra for a showcase of American favorites. Post-concert fireworks.

Hamilton: 4th of July Celebration, noon-8 p.m., Stricker's Grove, 11490 Hamilton Cleves Road. Open to the public, free admission. Fireworks 10 p.m. Ride tickets cost extra. Parking is $5 before 6 p.m., $8 after 6 p.m.

Harrison: 4th of July Celebration, 4 p.m., Harrison Community Center, 300 George St. Parade, fireworks at dusk, live music and other entertainment, food, drinks, adult beverages. Free family activities include cornhole tournament, face painting and more.

8.Kansas City, Missouri

Fourth of July in Stilwell

When: 5-9:30 p.m. July 4.

What: Parade takes place at 6 p.m., grounds open at 7 p.m. and a firework display will take place at 9-9:30 p.m.

Where: Fireworks will launch from the Evergy Service Center, 19950 Newton St., Stillwell, Kansas

Cost: Free.

Gardner July 4th Celebration

When: 4-10 p.m. July 4.

What: Live music, food vendors, entertainment and firework show starting at 10 p.m.

Where: Celebration Park, 32501 W. 159th St., Gardner, Kansas 66030

Cost: Free.

Lansing’s Independence Day Celebration

When: 6-9:45 p.m. July 3.

What: The event begins with inflatable rides and food vendors. Blane Howard will perform in concert at 8 p.m. Fireworks begin at 9:45 p.m.

Where: Kenneth W. Bernard Community Park, located off 4-H Road on the west side of Lansing

Cost: Entry to the event is free and parking is free until 6 p.m. After that, parking will cost $1.

Leawood City Park July 4th Celebration

When: 6-9:30 p.m. July 4.

What: Food, entertainment, inflatables and slides.

Where: 10601 Lee Blvd., Leawood, Kansas, 66206

Cost: Free.

Lenexa Community Porch Parade

When: July 1-4.

What: Celebrate our country’s independence by participating in Lenexa’s annual hometown tradition with a new twist! The Lenexa Community Days Porch Parade’s theme is “There’s no place like home.” Lenexa residents, businesses, churches and organizations are encouraged to participate. Porch Parade entries will receive a special Community Days Porch Parade yard sign.

Where: Throughout the city of Lenexa

Cost: Free.

9.Houston, Texas: Freedom Over Texas

Everything really is bigger in Texas, and they prove that with their annual Fourth of July fireworks show. It’s the largest land-based fireworks show in the United States. The show is set off from Buffalo Bayou in the park, just west of Sabine Bridge and the downtown area. The celebration was canceled in 2020 due to COVID, and they have yet to announce if the 2021 show will take place.

Places to Watch Fireworks Near Houston

What: Freedom Over Texas

Where: ABC13 Houston, Eleanor Tinsley Park (off Allen Parkway, Houston)

When: 7-10 p.m., July 4

Houston's signature day-long 4th of July celebration is on hold for another year, but Freedom Over Texas will be broadcast by ABC13. The virtual celebration will include a stellar lineup of musical guests, including Academy of Country Music Award winners Lee Brice and Jimmie Allen. American Idol contestant Alanis Sophia, Brian Jack & the Zydeco Gamblers, the Houston Symphony and Houston Methodist Singers round out the event's performers. The event will close with a fireworks show, which will take place west of downtown. It can be viewed on the broadcast, and Eleanor Tinsley Park will be open only for people viewing the fireworks in person. Every year a portion of the proceeds from Freedom Over Texas go to the Houston Food Bank, and this year's edition will include a text-to-give promotion. For more information, see the Freedom Over Texas website.

What: Celebration of Independence Parade & Festival

Where: Great Lawn and Loftin Park (7008 S. Rice Ave., Bellaire)

When: 9:30 a.m.-1 p.m., July 3

The City of Bellaire is hosting a parade and festival on Independence Eve. The parade kicks off the festivities at 9:30 a.m. The children's bike parade will start in front of the rest of the parade participants with both following the same route along South Rice Avenue. Stick around for the festival, which starts at approximately 10 a.m. on the Great Lawn of Bellaire City Hall. There will be food vendors, live music, entertainment and plenty of activities for residents to enjoy. For more information, go to the Celebration of Independence website or call the Bellaire Recreation Center at 713-662-8280.

What: South County Fourth of July Parade

Where: Market Street, The Woodlands

When: 9 a.m. (pre-parade entertainment at 8 a.m.), July 3

Get a great view of the parade in the center of The Woodlands. The parade route is a square around Grogan's Mill Road, Lake Robbins Drive and Lake Woodlands Drive, connecting around Market Street. The 1.3-mile parade will feature marching bands, floats, fire engines and more. Stick around after to enjoy a Saturday afternoon on the Waterway, which features a number of intriguing shops and delicious eateries.

What: Liberty on the Lawn

Where: Redemption Square (250 Assay St., Houston)

When: 5-9 p.m., July 3

Musical acts Bri Bagwell, No Rehearsal and Jenna Lynn are confirmed for the event, which also will have entertainment for kids, food available for purchase and a fireworks show. Admission and parking are free. For more information or to RSVP, see the event Facebook page.

What: Stars at Night - A Salute to Service

Where: The Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion (2005 Lake Robbins Dr., The Woodlands)

When: 8 p.m., July 3

The Woodlands Symphony Orchestra will perform in a free concert to celebrate America's birthday and honor local service heroes. The orchestra, led by Artistic Director Darryl Bayer, will feature a selection of patriotic favorites in this Independence Eve celebration. The event will also recognize local teachers, first responders, medical teams and front line workers who exemplified service during the pandemic. The gates open at 6:30 p.m. Click here for more information.

What: Baytown 4th of July Celebration

Where: Bicentennial Park (1001 Market St., Baytown)

When: 6 p.m., July 3; 4 p.m., July 4

This two-day festival has a long lineup of musical acts over a wide variety of genres. On Sunday, there will be a parade at 5:30 p.m. and a fireworks show at 9:30 p.m. Awards will be given out for parade entries in 15 different categories. For more information, click here.

What: City of Grapevine's 39th Annual July 4th Fireworks Extravaganza

Where: locations include some of Grapevine's lakeside parks, including Lakeview Park, Rockledge Park, Oak Grove Park and Meadowmere Park. Entry or parking fees sometimes apply.

When: See the website for individual park schedules.

The city of Grapevine is known throughout the Lone Star State for its beautiful lakeside parks. So... why not pick one and make a day — and a fireworks finale of it?

Due to the pandemic, counties or cities may adjust or cancel events at the last minute, so double-check with organizers. Know of other events in the area? Post them on the Patch calendar or share details on our free Neighbor Post feature.

Fireworks canceled in Smith Mountain Lake

Many people will head to Smith Mountain Lake for the Fourth of July; however, there’s one long-time tradition that will be missing this year.

The Saunders Volunteer Fire Department has canceled the annual firework show at Parkway Marina. The original show was set to be held at Parkway Marina on July 3.

COVID-19 is the culprit once again this year, which lake dwellers said was disappointing to hear after it was canceled last summer for the same reason.

The show has been going on for the last 27 years. In the past, boats filled the water to watch the show in the sky.

This event requires so much fundraising, it takes more than 6 months to plan.

By the time the fire department and the marina learned that COVID-restrictions would be completely lifted, it was too late to get the events lined up.

“It’s a little disappointing because it’s always a nice event. I don’t have a boat, so I can’t come down and watch them from the water,” Mark Echelley, who has watched the show from his lake house for the last decade, says. “I’ll probably go up to town and watch the ones in Moneta or a lot of people at the end of my cove light off fireworks. Usually I can see some of Mitchell’s when they light them off.”

Dress for the occasion

If you’re going to set some fireworks off, don’t do it barefoot. Heckman says to wear closed-toe shoes and safety glasses to protect your eyes, keep long hair pulled back, and don’t wear clothes with loose hanging fabric that could catch fire. If possible, use a utility-style lighter for a safer distance between your arm and the fuse. Also, absolutely do not smoke while around fireworks.

Check the weather

The weather is actually a significant factor in firework safety, and it’s not just rain that can dampen the festivities. High winds conditions aren’t safe for lighting fireworks. Fireworks can tip over or the wind could send them in the path of spectators or passersby. Light fireworks with the prevailing wind blowing away from the spectators.

Photo iStock
Photo iStock

Keep spectators safe

Spectators should be watching from a safe distance. Heckman says for fountain and cone fireworks; spectators should be at least 25 feet away and for aerial fireworks at least 40 feet away. Remember, each state and municipality have specific laws regarding fireworks; check to find out which are legal in your state.

Never do these things with fireworks

Don’t shoot fireworks from a metal or glass container and never aim fireworks at another person. Don’t carry fireworks in your pocket. Never place any part of your body directly over a firework device. Never bundle fireworks for a bigger bang. It be might be tempting to combine fireworks or take them apart to make your own creation, but the CPSC says never to light more than one firework at a time. Don’t relight a firework that didn’t go off the first time; it still could go off and explode. If you see a firework on the ground, leave it. There’s no telling why it’s on the ground. Report it to the police or fire department. If you’re a parent, be sure to warn your kids of this danger.

Don’t be in a rush to pick up spent fireworks. Let them stand for at least 20 minutes before you pick them up, or you could get burned. Next, submerge all the fireworks in a bucket of water and let them soak overnight. (The same goes for duds, except to be extra safe and scoop them up with a shovel and then submerge in water.) Remove the soaked fireworks from the bucket and place them in a trash bag and dispose of them with your other household trash. Firework safety, prep, and cleanup are a lot of work.

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