First off, get a jump on your neighbors. Don't wait till Saturday, when "independence" will be so day-before-yesterday. Today -- Thursday, July 2 -- rush down to your neighborhood fireworks stand, grab a small family pack and wait till dusk. Then go out to your driveway and light up a few to celebrate the 233rd anniversary the Congressional resolution of July 2, 1776, passed by a vote of 12 to zero: "That these United Colonies are, and, of right, ought to be, Free and Independent States; that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British crown."
Not to begrudge the fireworks display on the Fourth. Your city and civic clubs have put a lot of energy into that. They're well intentioned, and they're doing just what the Founders intended -- even if their calendar is a bit off. As John Adams wrote to his wife Abigail on July 3, "The second day of July, 1776, will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illumination, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forevermore." The joyous romp is real issue here, not the exact date. So party down on Saturday night!
But now that you've celebrated twice, why stop there? If you come from the original 12 states (not valid in New York), find out when the Declaration of Independence was first read in public in your community, and on that anniversary try reading those mighty words from your front steps. That's sure to trigger another party, or at least it did back then. Afterwards, you can all repair to ye olde publick house and raise some toasts. See if you can top this, from Worcester, Massachusetts, on July 14: "Perpetual itching without benefit of scratching to the enemies of America!"
(Okay, closet New Yorkers: you can finally have your turn on July 19, when your state joined in. Party down then, latecomers!)
Still, you're just warming up. On Aug. 2, invite 56 of your male-only friends and neighbors to your place (you can rent a small public hall if you prefer) for a ceremonial signing bash. Be sure to invite the press for this photo-op of our nation's original photo-op. Have your "signers" all dress up in dark suits and powdered wigs and download from the Internet the fanciest copy of the Declaration of Independence you can find. Then, one at a time, your guests can sign our secular scripture with their finest flourish. If some complain, as well they might, that they were not actually present for the vote of July 2, 1776, and should therefore not presume to sign, inform them they're in good company. Fourteen of the "real" signers weren't present either, and eight of these were not even members of Congress when independence was declared. So relax and get over it.
For me personally, even this does not suffice. The independence season is only one month long, and patriot as I am, I want more. That's why every Oct. 4, I celebrate our very first declaration of independence, for on that day in 1774, the people of Worcester instructed their representative in the Provincial Congress to raise a new government, "as from the ashes of the Phenix" of the broken one, "whatever unfavorable constructions our enemies may put upon such procedure." It took 21 months for Congress to catch up with Worcester, and I honor every step along that path -- the anniversary of Lexington and Concord, the battles, and 90 state and local declarations of independence that preceded the congressional version.
From January through June, I like to commemorate Thomas Paine's Common Sense. Try for yourself this warm-up to the independence season. Just grab a few copies of Paine's pamphlet (163 used and new from Amazon, starting at $1.97), take them down to your local watering hole and pass them about. Read aloud as you partake. Debate the hot-button topic, as people did then: Can we really do this thing, a government all for ourselves? Be ready for heated exchange, but that's okay. By summer you'll have it all worked out.
Ray Raphael lives somewhere out in Southern Humboldt. He is the author of A People's History of the American Revolution, Founding Myths: Stories that Hide Our Patriotic Past and, most recently, Founders: The People Who Brought You a Nation.