Independence Day is typically filled with revelry — many people drink American beer, shoot explosives into the sky and rock red, white and blue apparel that may not be appropriate for everyday wear. It’s also a day full of interesting, quirky history that people usually don’t talk about between filling their mouths with hot dogs and singing The Star Spangled Banner off-key.
But if you’re destined to spend your holiday at, say, a company cookout, here are five things you may not have known about Independence Day that you can use as conversation starters:
1. The idea of using an eagle to represent the majesty of our great nation did not immediately take flight for Benjamin Franklin
“The eagle,” he wrote in a letter to his daughter, “is a bird of bad moral character. He does not get his living honestly.” Franklin then said that the proposed eagle looked more like a turkey, and proceeded to craft perhaps the most complimentary, heroic tale about a turkey that has ever been written down. “For the truth, the turkey is in comparison a much more respectable bird … He is besides a little vain and silly, a bird of courage, and would not hesitate to attack a Grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his farm yard with a red coat on.” A guard turkey, it seems, was Franklin’s choice of mascot.
2. Independence Day and July 4 are one and the same — except in 1779
It’s always a bummer when a good American drinking holiday falls on a weekday instead of a weekend. This year people can enjoy our country’s independence on a Saturday, and have all of Sunday to, well, recover. But back in 1779, they weren’t about that weekend celebration — instead, when July 4 fell on a Sunday, they switched the holiday to Monday, July 5. And they celebrated in style, with swanky dinner parties featuring goblets and gooseberries and sundry items that sound like they’re from the Harry Potter books.
3. For our celebration of the greatness of all things American, our fireworks and our flags are made in America, right?
Wrong. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, China enjoys Independence Day as much as we do — in 2014 the Chinese made $257.8 million on fireworks exports to the U.S., and $3.5 million on American flags. The safest bet is to buy some flag paraphernalia from American Apparel and wave that around. This fanny pack is a truly inspired option.
4. While we celebrated our independence from Great Britain, the Philippines celebrated their independence from us
Until about 50 years ago, the Philippines celebrated July 4 as its independence from our colonial rule. The idea was that the U.S. and the Philippines would share July 4 as both countries’ Independence Days. Perhaps unsurprisingly, some Filipinos had a problem sharing a holiday with their colonizers. “July 4 seemed tantamount to the celebration of Philippine subjection to and dependence on the United States which served to perpetuate unpleasant memories,” President Diosdado Macapagal of the Philippines wrote. Today, July 4 is sometimes referred to as Filipino-American Friendship Day, instead.
5. Denmark is basically the 51st state every Fourth of July
It’s easy to assume that America is the most American place to be on July 4, but the Danes across the pond are trying to give us a run for our money. Every year, Denmark loses it for the red, white and blue, and they’ve done so for more than a century now. In Aalborg and Rebild, Denmark, thousands of people don the stars and stripes in celebration of the U.S. welcoming in Danish immigrants, and an ongoing friendship between the U.S. and Denmark. Among the distinguished guests who have attended Denmark’s Fourth of July celebrations are former President Richard Nixon, and even Walt Disney. What could be more American than that?
Paige Pfleger is an intern with NPR Digital News.