As an American living in the UK, I’ve had to get creative with some of the yearly celebrations that those living in the United States take for granted. For example, when my children were very young, I went around to the neighbours houses a few days before Halloween every year to ask if they would participate in my children’s Trick or Treating and, so as not to put anyone out, I even offered to provide candy for them to give back to us on the night. Some neighbours I had to avoid as I knew that they wanted nothing to do with the Pagan Holiday of Halloween. Most however kindly accepted and even insisted on providing their own treats. When the big night arrived, each of our neighbours would coo over the children’s costumes, hand them their chocolate (usually full size bars) then, in true English fashion, invite us in for a cup of tea. As it would be considered the height of rudeness to refuse, we would dutifully stay for a ‘cuppa’ and a 20 minute chat. Halloween night would last hours!
Fast forward twelve years, Trick or Treating is now widely accepted and the numbers of children wandering around the village Trick or Treating has grown. No longer does anyone need to be pre-warned of the festivities, they provide their own treats and some of them have even gotten to grips with the ‘leave the porch light on only if participating’ etiquette of Trick or Treating.
Fourth of July
That’s great for a holiday which has much of its roots in the UK. What about that uniquely American celebration of Independence Day? It isn’t a British Holiday at all, in fact, you could say that it is Anti-British. Luckily, the 241 years that have since passed has soothed old wounds. Whilst you won’t find a fireworks display (at least I haven’t found one yet) in July many British institutions take advantage of the marketing opportunity and offer things like Free Drinks to Americans or Screenings of Independence Day. My favourite way to celebrate Independence Day in the UK is to visit one of three museums, Benjamin Franklin’s House in London, Sulgrave Manor- the ancestral home of George Washington or The American Museum in Britain.
Ben Franklin Wuz Here
Benjamin Franklin’s House sits a short walk from Trafalgar Square. It is an unassuming brick townhouse that blends in perfectly with the other houses on the street. Although sparsely decorated, it boasts being the only surviving residence of Benjamin Franklin in the world. Each fourth of July, they invite members of the public in for tours, cake and bubbly. While it isn’t the most exciting place to be on Independence Day, it is a glimpse into the life of a Founding Father you couldn’t see an America.
George Washington Never Wuz Here
Sulgrave Manor in Oxfordshire is the ancestral home of George Washington. His great great grandfather lived here before he immigrated to the Virginia Colony in 1656. In 1914 it was purchased and converted into a museum to celebrate 100 years of peace between Britain and America. As a museum, it tries to strike a balance between a 16th century historic house and a British link to American History. On Independence Day it hosts special events such as battle reenactments, American dancers, exhibitions, tours and even American bbq’s. The American link can seem a little tenuous here, however taken as a period house in its own right, it is a charming way to spend an afternoon.
Bath Does it Best
While both Benjamin Franklin’s House and Sulgrave Manor are lovely places to visit, they pale in comparison to the enchanting American Museum in Britain. This museum sits on the outskirts of the city of Bath overlooking the green valleys of the Somerset countryside. Inside you will find American hand made items such as quilts, ceramics and Quaker furniture. The period rooms allow you to step into a 17th century Puritan home, an 18th century tavern and a mid 19th century New Orleans bedroom. As you wander through the various galleries, you can admire the decorative arts and craftsmanship that has been present throughout America’s history. The quality of what they offer visitors isn’t restricted to the galleries. Their events are pretty special too. Around the fourth of July every year they host an Independence Day event which can include Revolutionary War re-enactments, friendly games of American Football, Harley Davidson displays and even the odd Elvis impersonator. You can easily spend a day here and forget that you aren’t actually in America.
Not a Bad Substitute
While I deeply miss watching the fireworks display from a picnic blanket in the local park or a tailgate party in the mall parking lot, there is something inherently special about the Independence Day celebrations provided by the very people from whom we became independent. After nearly 250 years since we signed that Declaration, there is a sort of acknowledgment of the rich contribution American culture has made to the rest of the world and that without that original fight for independence, much of this richness may never have shone through.