Fourth of July Weekend
I suppose our 4th July holiday began, not with the A10 Thunderbolts that I mentioned last post, but with the uniquely American phenomenon of a kids Baseball game at Grandville, a small suburb of Grand Rapids, on Thursday night, accompanied by a devoted mom of one of the players, Jeanette Kaufman, who became our "4th July Guide".
We then arranged to meet up the next morning for the parade.
Now as someone used to July parades in Belfast of an orange hue, this was an entirely different experience. Starting with the A10 Thunderbolts, and finishing with the fact that when the parade had passed and the crowds went to disperse there was no sea of litter... and especially no cans and bottles of beer left lying in the gutter.
Indeed the almost total absence of alcohol around those watching the parade, marked it out as the truly family occasion that it was... that and the constant showers of "candy" that the participants in the parade shared with the watching children... My own youngest son, picked up 129 sweets.
Now in my own childhood the Twelfth Parades were always events that I looked forward to, but they were never, even in those rose-tinted days, particularly family friendly... The closest we got to that were the personal bottles of Maine lemonade that we got at the field. But in recent years I have been reluctant to take my kids anywhere near the parades, and certainly not to the drink fueled events that are the Bonfires of recent years.
But the family friendly nature was not the only difference. There was also a complete contrast in the very nature of the parade. One spoke of celebration, the other of beligerance. Now I am no great fan of flag waving patriotism in any culture, as it can only too quickly become idolatry, but there is something totally honest and open about the patriotic celebration that we shared in at the Grandville Parade. Everyone who was anyone, or who wanted to be anyone, was participating. Canvassing for election as Congressman, Sheriff, County Commissioner, Judge or dog catcher (not sure about the last one, but I wouldn't be surprised). Selling everything from fitness centres, to pizza shops, to posture-paedic mattresses. Churches were there, promoting their Vacation Bible Schools and other things. A celebration not of the past (there wasn't a single reference to the revolutionary origins of Independence Day... although I accept this is the mid-west and not the North Eastern seedbed of the revolution) but of the present and future; of the blessed trinity of Amrican identity: democracy (or at least the bizarre American form of it), capitalism and Christianity (see note on democracy). But whatever my reservations about it, it was unreservedly positive, upbeat and inclusive...
Set against that what Northern Ireland's Twelfth "Celebrations" have become. They are almost by definition negative and exclusive, predominantly focussed on what they are against, rather than what they are for. They are almost entirely backward looking... and I don't mean to 1690... but to a mythical golden (or should that be "Orange") age when we lived in a Protestant Province, governed by a Protestant Parliament for a Protestant People. Now the future looks less certain for that Protestant people, particularly because their protestantism has no real roots in the Protestant Church (whether they have abandoned the church or the church has abandoned them is a question for another day.) So what is there to celebrate? Well, how about some of the things that Orangism claims to stand for ie. political and religious freedom? Is that not what our current political administration is supposed to guarantee in a way that the old regime did not?
Anyway, if the Twelfth is to survive as an integral part of the new Northern Ireland it will have to reinvent itself, not aping the events like the 4th of July, but with a character of its own, affirming what is good about the culture passed down to us.
I am reliably informed (by my niece) that this year a huge party was organised in Inverary by some Ulster-Scots group, and while I am a bit ambivalent of milking the Ulster-Scots cultural bit too much, such ventures are a welcome step forward.
After the parade here, we too headed off to a huge party in the park... Including the ubiquitous inflatables and face-painters, but also with the peculiar local delights of corn dogs and horseshoe tossing.
God bless America. But God bless Northern Ireland too... And may we come to celebrate the ways in which he has blessed us and continues to bless us.