Growing up in Benton, Ark., Malaya Tapp loved celebrating the Fourth of July with her family. “We would go to parades and see firework shows and hang out with friends,” she said. “It was always such a fun holiday.”
But now that she is an adult — she’s 18 and entering college next year — commemorating the holiday isn’t so simple.
It started in 2020 when the Black Lives Matter movement spotlighted many of the injustices across the country. “I lost a lot of my patriotic feelings,” she said.
Ms. Tapp, who now lives in Atlanta, also realized that many festive components of Fourth of July aren’t that palatable for her.
There are the fireworks. “It’s hard to tell the difference between guns and fireworks, and here there is always something on the news about a shooting or something, so it makes me nervous,” she said. “They are also bad for the environment. They release a lot of toxic chemicals.”
This year she is skipping the holiday altogether, opting instead to travel with her church youth group to visit a Navajo nation in Arizona, but the trip was canceled because of a Covid outbreak.
Some Americans, especially younger people, are rethinking whether they want to celebrate Independence Day. A survey by YouGov found that 56 percent of American adults planned to join in the festivities this year.
Of course, there are many people, including celebrities, still getting into the patriotic spirit. Demi Lovato, Post Malone and Sheryl Crow are among many artists performing in CNN’s Fourth of July Special. Ja Rule is playing live at Coney Island as part of an Independence Day celebration.
Marissa Vivori, 29, a tech product manager in Manhattan, remembers the last time she celebrated the Fourth of July, a few summers ago. She was going to the Hamptons, she said, on the most packed Long Island Rail Road train she have ever been on. “I didn’t get a seat and I was standing in the aisle,” she said, “and the toilet overflowed, and we all had to hold our bags.”
She realized she never loved the holiday. “I remember even as a kid feeling bad for the animals during the fireworks,” she said.
Logistically, celebrating in New York City poses challenges. “You’re either in Manhattan, and it’s super-hot, and you are figuring out where you are watching the fireworks. Or you are trying to leave to go to the Jersey Shore or the Hamptons, and it’s a fortune and overcrowded,” Ms. Vivori said.
She also has political qualms with the holiday. “Last summer Roe v. Wade was overturned, and that really made me less inclined to celebrate,” she said.
Even if she wanted to celebrate, she would worry about the message it sent.
So this year she is leaving U.S. soil altogether and heading to Italy and Britain instead. “I’ll be in London for the actual Fourth,” she said, laughing. “The irony is not lost on me.”
Allison Bartella, 30, a publicist in Brooklyn, is also finally saying no to a holiday she never loved.
“I feel like it’s kind of the New Year’s Eve of the summer,” she said. “Expectations are high, and they are usually not met.”
“The food is always sitting out in the sun, and it’s hot, and you are getting scared by random fireworks in the street, and it just doesn’t turn out how you want it to be,” she said.
This year, she is staying put in New York City, where she plans to go to a bar on the Lower East Side.
Some Americans are trying to come to terms with the fact that Fourth of July is no longer a unifying, communal day.
Conner Miskowiec, 28, a content creator in Phoenix, decided to do a video series in which he asked strangers if they were going to celebrate Independence Day.
“I got everything from, ‘America is the greatest country in the world, and we have to celebrate the American dream,’ to ‘This country has a lot to work on, and America isn’t so free, and I don’t feel like celebrating,’” he said. “I honestly didn’t expect to get the variety of answers I got.”
“I think a lot of people think America isn’t for everyone anymore, and so it’s not an inclusive holiday,” he said.
He posted the videos on Instagram and TikTok, where he received thousands of comments on some of them. “A lot of people were like, ‘Why would you ask such a question because it seemed like a ‘duh’ thing,’ but I was like, ‘Watch the videos and you will see.’”
As for Ms. Tapp, she understands that rejecting the Fourth of July is a new and hard thing for some people. “I know a lot of people who feel they have to partake in all the events, and they have to show their patriotism just to fit in or not have people get mad at them,” she said. “A lot of people get really defensive when you say you don’t want to celebrate the Fourth of July because they think you don’t care about soldiers who died or all the things that went into making this country.”
So she put out a video on Instagram and TikTok reminding her followers that they don’t have to celebrate if they don’t want to, even if they feel pressure.
“It’s very much a controversial holiday now,” she said, explaining why she made it. “We all have to decide for ourselves if we want to celebrate.”
Still, there are many traditions, new and old. The Nathan’s Hot Dog Contest will crown a champion, and Walt Disney World is going all out with a red, white and blue fireworks display at many of its parks. Melania Trump has even issued a set of NFTs in honor of Independence Day named the 1776 Collection.
Isaac Norbe, 40, who works in marketing in Seattle, understands why some people may be feeling down on America this year. “It is very challenging going into the Fourth of July due to the Supreme Court Decisions,” he said. “They also came down on some tough decisions at the same time last year, and it made it very difficult to celebrate.”
But he has always loved Fourth of July — “It’s actually called the Fourth of Jul-Isaac,” he said, laughing — and feels the same this year. “It’s about celebrating your community and the community you create with the people around you,” he said.
For him, it isn’t a time to celebrate a specific holiday. “It’s about celebrating everyone in the country,” he said, “and it should be for everyone.”