When you can't go home for the holidays, sometimes you have to fake it. For American expats on the 4th of July, that means not just celebrating our nation's independence and history but also creating or seeking out the cherished traditions of the day. It means barbecue and hamburgers and hotdogs. It means music -- a marching band, banjo serenade or gospel rendition of "America the Beautiful." It definitely means fireworks.
Around the world, there are many options for Americans living or traveling abroad to get their fix on this day so evocative of wholesome Americana -- even if the details aren't precisely what they're used to back home; the locally-available fruit in lieu of watermelon, sparklers standing in for fireworks.
These festivities range from informal backyard get-togethers to parties in expat bars to elaborate soirees hosted by U.S. embassies or business associations, some of which would put most municipal celebrations back home to shame. And in all cases, the events are not meant just for homesick expats but also for locals with a taste for Americana -- think of it as unofficial diplomacy fueled by greasy food and rockin' music.
In keeping with our nation's proud, swaggering spirit, three different locales claim to host the largest 4th of July celebrations outside the U.S.A. So let's start with this aspirational trio and then take a look at some more humble but equally interesting Independence Day festivities abroad.
Fourth of July Celebrations Outside the U.S.A.
The American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham) hosts Independence Day celebrations in many countries, but their blow-out festival in Moscow is reputed to be the biggest. Past highlights have included classic cars, Russian Elvis impersonator Vitaliy Tatarinovy and an Old Glory “supercake” weighing a quarter-ton. This year’s event honors “cultural diversity across U.S. states.”
The award for dedication to importing Americana surely goes to the bash held at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations in Geneva. In 2011, for a “Frontier Fourth” theme, they brought in teepees and a real, live bison. Last year it was “The Great American Picnic,” with barbecue, apple pie and that lesser-known USA delicacy, Cracker Jack.
Rebild Park was created by Danish Americans in 1912 for the express purpose of having a place to celebrate the 4th of July. Since then, the festivities have drawn crowds of thousands -- peaking at record 50,000 in 1948 -- and luminaries such as President Ronald Reagan, Vice President Hubert Humphrey and Walter Cronkite.
Our troops deserve a chance to relax now and then, and the Navy doesn’t let a minor detail like being at sea get in the way. On special occasions, such as the Fourth, they roll out the grills, set up volleyball nets, break out that rare treat of a semi-cold beer and have a “steel beach picnic” on the ship deck.
Never mind the details of whom, exactly, we were declaring independence from in 1776. Time and grilled meats heal all wounds. The many 4th of July celebrations in London include multiple versions of that classic American tradition, the eating contest, whether it's barbecue at Big Easy or hot dogs at Blues Kitchen (pictured).
Liberia was founded by African Americans, many of them freed slaves. The kinship between the two countries is evident in the 4th of July celebration hosted by the U.S. Embassy in Monrovia, which President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (second from left) typically attends. Food stations are divided by American region: Philly cheesteaks in the Northeast, salmon cakes in the Northwest.
Like its counterpart in Moscow, the AmCham Shangai Independence Day celebration draws thousands of attendees for the Fourth and features old-time family activities like a three-legged race and a watermelon-eating contest. Last year the Harlem Globetrotters also stopped by.
The U.S. Embassy in Paris hosts a garden party, but in a city famous for ex-pats, from Hemingway to Sedaris, there are plenty of more low-key American hangouts in which to observe the Fourth. Chief among them: Harry’s Bar, which opened in 1911 and crafts special cocktails for the occasion.
Fireworks and a capella singing are the unlikely co-stars of the Fourth of July Over Dubai, sponsored by the American Business Council. The Yale University Whiffenpoofs perform a selection of patriotic songs to the crowd inside the Meydan Hotel before the real-life rockets’ red glare lights up the sky.