Published June 30, 2011
It's the big Fourth of July celebrations that get all the ink. Sure, the fireworks and festivities in Boston, New York, and San Francisco are great, but there is more to America than a handful of big cities.
Small city celebrations never devolve into spectacle, but linger instead in charming nostalgia. The holiday lets towns embrace their better selves. New York city can't have a "dunk the mayor" booth because the line would be too long, but Maplewood has one.
Of course, there are more of these towns and traditions that chronicling all of them would be impossible. So here are a few shining examples from the Northeast's buffet of patriotic treats. Anyone looking to make a getaway to a place that makes Norman Rockwell look like a gritty realist should check out these towns.
Bristol, Rhode Island: It's impossible to talk about any Fourth of July celebration – small town or otherwise – without mentioning Bristol. The town is home to the oldest continuous July Fourth celebration in America, a tradition begun in 1785. The festivities begin well before Independence Day, though, with a series of concerts, a carnival, a beauty pageant and more. But, it all culminates in the parade (big number 226 this year) that winds through the town, full of floats entered by residents and businesses, marching bands, ensembles and the like. Planning on visiting Bristol? Heads up: the fireworks are actually on the night of July 3.
Maplewood, New Jersey: This small town lets loose on July Fourth, hosting not only a local parade but a circus - featuring elephants - and a small fair where the mayor is enthroned over the dunk take and local gluttons shovel it away during an ice cream eating contest. At the end of the day, fireworks light up the bunting draped over many of the main street buildings.
Glen Cove, New York: Kids take center stage at Glen Cove's annual July Fourth bicycle parade. What started as a small, informal affair 15 years ago by two residents has blossomed into a town-wide tradition. Last year, more than 200 kids decked out their bikes, wagons, scooters and power wheels in patriotic decor and rode through the downtown area. No fussy floats here! At the end of the route, participants will find a patriotic sing-along and refreshments. Fireworks in Glen Cove will also be on July 3.
Merrimack, New Hampshire: The Fourth of July kicks of early in Merrimack as enthusiastic revelers take to the Sparkler race/walk at 8 a.m. before heading to the Rotary Club's pancake breakfast. The parade kicks off at 2 p.m. from the town commons as children ride their bicycles, wagons and strollers - all suitably decked out in red, white and blue - along the main road. The kids are accompanied by a monster truck, a drum and bugle corps, military vehicles, local business leaders and a single New England Patriot's cheerleader. Though there used to be an Independence Day carnival, it unfortunately got the axe this year as the town tightened its belt. Still, a Patriot's cheerleader!
Massapequa Park, New York: After a worrisome interlude during which the town's fireworks were temporarily canceled, this small, green Long Island hamlet is back on track to celebrate a festive holiday weekend. The town typically hosts a small parade featuring veterans and Little Leaguers walking down centuries-old streets. What's great about the celebration here is that it doesn't aspire to be big, just comfortable.