Americans like their holidays. OK, so who doesn’t? But I’m not talking about a weekend hiking in upstate New York or an escape to the beach. I’m talking about the concept behind nationally decreed time off, the ritual of a public holiday or a festive season. I write this on the eve of perhaps the biggest holidays of them all: 4 July. As a Brit in New York this should be a time, perhaps, when I feel a little uneasy. It is, after all, a celebration – with all the razzmatazz of epic firework displays up and down the country – of the US’s severance of its ties with the UK on that July day back in 1776.
Any display of national fervour makes me feel a little uncomfortable anyway and I think it’s a sentiment mirrored by many other Brits. The St George’s Cross, hijacked by extreme right parties and football hooligans, has too many negative connotations. Feeling positive about the UK can seem a little shameful, a little embarrassing. It’s a strange set of emotions that is almost impossible to express and probably not shared by citizens of other countries around the world, thankfully not shackled to such complex and conflicting feelings. All of which means I’m no great proponent of the US’s brand of nationalism; one that means US serviceman get to use VIP lounges at airports and sees residents of white-picket-fence neighbourhoods fly the star-spangled banner from a flagpole next to their homes. But if patriotism means knowing how to have collective fun, that can be no bad thing.
Despite the fact that there is apparently a heightened threat of a terrorist attack this weekend, there is seemingly little that will derail the population’s determination to drink and barbecue in excess. And the stats tell the story: over the weekend something like 150 million hotdogs will be consumed as well as more than 300 million kilos of chicken. More than $200m will be spent on firework displays alone.
The message, you see, has been subverted; it no longer matters why there is a celebration but simply that there is one. These holidays are just an excuse for a bit of revelry so whether it’s getting carried away with gourd decoration in autumn or grilling meat for a public holiday, perhaps Britain needs to take a leaf out of its former colony’s book. Who knows, we might even enjoy it.
Ed Stocker is Monocle’s New York bureau chief.