What's More American?
There's nothing more American than fireworks and BBQ on the Fourth of July-- or is there? The quintessential traditions that come to mind when celebrating American independence, in fact, have their roots throughout the world -- just like the people celebrating them. On a day where we honor what it means to be an American, we wanted to share the history and stories behind three classic Fourth of July traditions, which aren’t as uniquely American as they seem.
Fireworks may seem like the most American tradition, especially on the Fourth, but these pyrotechnic mechanics can be traced all the way back to ancient China. As far back to 200 BC Han Dynasty China, people have been roasting Bamboo until the air inside would explode. The Mandarin word for firecracker, “Baozhu,” translates directly to “exploding bamboo.” A few centuries later, Chinese engineers outfitted bamboo with gun powder and iron shavings for sparkling effects and sent their creation down the Silk Road for the rest of the world to enjoy.
Barbecue and Potato Salad
While American BBQ traditions can be traced to the South, the actual practice of barbecuing was picked up by Spaniards in the Caribbean, who used the term barbacoa to refer to the way natives would slowly cook meat over wooden platforms. By the 19th century, the American South had fully adopted this food tradition. Often served with BBQ is potato salad, which also has a more complicated ethnic background. Potatoes were discovered in the 16th century by the Spanish in South America, but the actual potato salad dish was developed by the Germans. Eventually, German immigrants brought this recipe with them to America in the 19th century, and it has become an American Summer classic ever since.
Nothing is more iconically American than Apple Pie, but this dessert has origins in multiple European countries, with the first known recipe dating back to Chaucer and the Canterbury Tales era England. The 1381 recipe called for apples, figs, raisins, and pears, which is different than the Apple Pie we’re used to -- the modern version we’re accustomed to eating is the Dutch version of Apple Pie, which goes back to the early 1500’s. There is also a French Apple Pie that has made its way into variations of American Apple Pie.
On Wednesday, when we don our patriotic colors and wave our flags, keep in mind that even these most "American" things are the culmination of the different cultures and peoples that have called America home. Whether you're a recent immigrant -- like me -- or can trace your roots back to the Mayflower, let us celebrate that we live in a diverse country with many cultures and traditions. Cheers to a happy Fourth of July!