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Fireworks bang and explode above you in hundreds of different colours as you look towards Douglas Island. You are standing on the pier in Juneau where the last cruise ship pulled out from only hours before.
Rewind the day and the town is filled with thousands of cruise ship tourists or ‘cruisers’ as the locals call them. The township of Juneau overflows with life, the tourists ranging from excited children to grandparents.
During the day it is the tourists’ voices that are heard in the streets, but once evening falls on the 3rd of July, the people of Juneau are slowly emerging from their shopfronts and preparing for the start of their Independence Day festivities.
Independence Day is a federal holiday in the U.S. that celebrates the adoption of the Declaration of Independence.
On this day in 1776 the United States separated from Britain and became its own country.
It has been celebrated since 1777 and generally includes parades, fireworks, and overall festivities.
Our most similar public holiday is probably Australia Day, but we don’t go as ‘all out’ as Americans do.
Almost every house is decorated with flags and streamers in red, white and blue, and shopfronts have been adorned for days.
11am comes and not a single shop is open. Most have put up ‘back in an hour’ signs but many have decided to just take the whole day off. It is a public holiday after all.
Even in a small town of 31, 275 people, there are hundreds of floats in their parade. Anyone who can do anything is in it as well as the expected groups like the American version of the RSL.
Some women ranging in age from about 20 to 60 march along holding folding chairs and you wonder what they represent. Suddenly they open the chairs and begin burlesque dancing in front of you.
Walking behind them is the sign to explain this strange float. They are the “Chicks with Chairs” and they do it simply because they can.
That seems to be the motto as lawn mowers roll past followed by the Filipino Society, then the snow mover. The roller-derby girls sail past with the local camping store behind, complete with an outhouse and pitched tent on their truck.
As the floats parade, children and adults alike gather on the sides of the street, holding out open bags to catch lollies thrown from those in the parade.
The parade finishes and there is a mass exodus from Juneau as most of the town’s residents head over to Douglas Island for the events.
There are scheduled sandcastle competitions, dog Frisbee, children’s races, and the annual fireman’s race. The race has been toned down in recent years but the aim is for one fire fighting unit to get their hose running before the other unit, and to stop the other unit using the water.
Keeping in mind the outside temperature is about 18ÕC it’s a brave activity for both fire fighters and spectators alike as the water goes everywhere!
Evening begins by the clock but not by the light; its only 5pm but it won’t be dark until around 12 and even then its not pitch black.
The smell of meat and fish on a barbeque begin to fill the air as the 4th of July celebrations continue.
No-one seems to care that there is work tomorrow; the Alaskan Ale is flowing and the fish is cooking.
Personal fireworks can be seen and heard occasionally as they are not yet illegal here.
Due to these fireworks, the citizens of Juneau feel safe outside. Not even the smell of fish can lure the bears out of their hiding places.
As a guest I have the luxury of sleeping in the next morning and when I rise, many of the banners and flags have disappeared.
Other than some bleary eyes and quite a few headaches, the 4th of July and all its craziness is already a memory.