The Fourth of July is so intrinsically associated with American culture that it's easy to take its traditions - and its history - for granted. But the beloved national holiday has some surprising secrets behind it, from the truth of the historical apocrypha that surrounds it to the trivial details that puts its popularity into context.
There are plenty of basics about Independence Day that are widely understood - that it's the official celebration of the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776, for starters - as well ceremonial rituals that have been widely agreed upon. The fireworks, the hot dogs, the reds, whites, and blues. But what if those reds, whites, and blues were once green? What if we should be celebrating on July 2 instead? What if it wasn't even an officially sanctioned holiday until after the Civil War, nearly a century after the Revolutionary War? And most important of all, what might Nicolas Cage have to do with all of this? Look no further than this list of surprising truths - and untruths - about America's foundational summertime holiday.
The Song 'God Bless America' Nearly Didn't Exist
"God Bless America," the iconic patriotic anthem heard annually at Fourth of July celebrations nationwide, very nearly didn't make it into American history. Composer Irving Berlin wrote the song in 1918, having just become a naturalized citizen, but kept it buried away for two decades. It was only a request from Kate Smith - a singer with a popular radio show at the time - that finally compelled him to dust it off.
Smith was looking for a tune to commemorate the US's first-ever official Armistice Day, celebrating the 20-year anniversary of the official end of World War I hostilities. She approached Berlin, who re-worked the song a bit and then watched his revised version catapult to instant fame after its debut performance, by Smith, on November 10, 1938. With the world on the precipice of yet another global conflict, "God Bless America" became a galvanizing anthem - appropriated and re-appropriated in various contexts by American culture - that became a Fourth of July staple.
It Wasn't A National Holiday Until 1870Photo: Baranov E / Shutterstock
Americans began observing Independence Day on July 4, 1777, with a parade and other festivities - yes, including fireworks - in Philadelphia. However, it wasn't technically a US holiday until nearly a century later.
In 1870, Congress passed a law making it official, as part of a larger bill that also gave official national recognition to such mainstays as Christmas, Thanksgiving, and New Year's Day. It didn't become a paid legal holiday until 1941, when a bill was passed to grant holiday leave to employees of the federal government.
150 Million Hot Dogs Are Eaten Every July 4Photo: Africa Studio / Shutterstock
That's right. Every year, Americans manage to consume 150 million hot dogs on July 4 alone. That's nearly triple the standard daily rate for the US, which in total consumes 20 billion hot dogs annually (an average of 54.8 million per day). More hot dogs are eaten in the month of July than any other month, which is why July is widely dubbed National Hot Dog Month.
The Philippines Shared 15 Independence Days With AmericaPhoto: Aleks_Shutter / Shutterstock
From 1946-1962, the Fourth of July was celebrated as Independence Day in the Philippines. This stemmed from two separate but directly linked events in the relationship between the southeast Asian nation and the United States. As part of the 1898 Treaty of Paris, which ended the Spanish-American War, the US was granted control of the Philippines.
A few decades later, on July 4, 1946, the nation gained its own independence - this time by formal recognition from the US, the consummation of a longstanding agreement - dating back to 1916 - that the Philippines eventually be recognized as a sovereign country. As such, Independence Day was celebrated on the 4th for nearly two decades, before President Diosdado Macapaga officially made the switch to July 12 as its new, official Independence Day, to commemorate the day in 1898 when the country achieved a brief period of independence from Spain.