After months of sheltering in place, planning another holiday celebration might seem exasperating. Unable to spend the day at the neighborhood pool, crowd into a concert venue, or gather on a field for fireworks, many of us might feel like our Fourth of July traditions are hopping out the window, one after another. 

Despite the obstacles, sometimes all it takes is a little bit of inspiration, patience, and spirit of adventure to turn an empty schedule into a full day of new plans and traditions. 

So, whether or not your area is still offering a fireworks show, here are four ideas for making this Independence Day both meaningful and memorable for the whole family. 

Gather for family prayer

While the Fourth of July seems incomplete without a big party, it’s easy to overlook the fundamental meaning of the holiday: appreciating the freedoms we have in this country and honoring those who have sacrificed to give us those freedoms. So before cracking open the grill or blasting country music, try to gather in the family room and pause for a few minutes to reflect on what Independence Day signifies.

Family and friends pray the rosary together at home in Overland Park, Kansas, Jan. 12, 2020. (CNS photo/Doug Hesse, The Leaven)

Consider visiting the National Archives website to read the Declaration of Independence and learn about its history, and discuss the core phrases like “all men are created equal” or “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Talk about how each of us can try to pray for and promote those ideals more in our daily lives.

You could also read about an American saint you didn’t know about before, such as St. Kateri Tekakwitha (a Native American virgin) or Ven. Augustus Tolton (the first African American priest) and contemplate how their example can help each of us grow in love for our country and faith.

Alternatively, you could simply recite a prayer for the country together — either a pre-written one or one you compose yourselves — to ask God for his protection and guidance upon those who lead and live in the home he has given us.

Have a game tournament

When the park or the pool is unavailable for outdoor recreation, the backyard or the empty side street can still offer fun alternatives. Grab some jump ropes or hula hoops from the garage and see who can go at it the longest, or if you have a basketball hoop, organize a family-wide shooting competition. If you live near an empty stretch of road, have a bike or scooter race. For indoor options, break out a deck of cards, or consider setting up a table tennis net across your kitchen island or dining room table.

(Shutterstock image)

For multiple rounds of competition, build a tournament bracket — either by hand or using a free online generator — and have family members face off until the champion emerges. You can also organize a fun “family olympics” structure by arranging two teams and awarding one point to a team each time one of their members wins a game. To make it even more patriotic, have the teams dress in different colors of the American flag and host a simple awards ceremony by playing the national anthem as you bestow certificates or small prizes.

To encourage a spirit of sportsmanship and charity, you can also establish rules such as “Play to win, but learn to lose” or “Be cheerful, don’t complain, and encourage others.” Award points to players and teams who live by those rules in each game, and be sure to honor them at the end of the tournament, even if they didn’t win.

Get kitchen creative

"Layered Fruit Flag Salad." (© 2020 General Mills)

This year might not bring that annual block party or family potluck, but it can still include some patriotic treats to add a spice of special into the celebration at home. Festivize your grill menu with firework hot dogs; red, white, and blue burgers; or bean burgers for vegetarian diets. Decorate your table with an American flag fruit salad or a tasty red, white, and blue dessert.

To build in some family bonding, pair up family members to make a menu item together, then have them present it to the rest of the family with a clever name. Consider setting up a summer picnic on your patio or yard, using an old blanket or homemade bandana quilt. A few simple decorations, such as American flag placemats or even red, white, and blue paper plates can make the meal feel more special, sparking smiles and memories.

You can also turn this activity into an act of service by reserving a dish or two for a neighbor who is a veteran, new mother, or is simply lonely. You may very well find that a colorful homemade treat, delivered with a smile or a friendly note, will brighten someone’s day much more than fireworks.

Rain check: Dive into classic American cinema

Movie poster for "Yankee Doodle Dandy." (IMDB)

Of course, a stormy forecast poses another significant obstacle to Fourth of July plans. When outdoor games and grilling are no longer a possibility, cozying up on the couch for a movie isn’t a bad idea, especially when it fuels family bonding and the Independence Day spirit. Several classic American films can do just that. If you’re looking to keep up the energy indoors, try a fun musical, such as “Singin’ in the Rain,” “Meet me in St. Louis,” or “Yankee Doodle Dandy.” These films will have you itching to get up and dance, sing along, and laugh at the lighthearted humor of old-school Hollywood.

For a more thought-provoking drama, award-winners like “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “The Caine Mutiny,” and “A Few Good Men” offer glimpses into the political, cultural, and moral challenges that have characterized the American legal and military systems over the years. Some might not be appropriate for the whole family, so using resources like PluggedIn and Common Sense Media are helpful for gauging what would be most suitable for you.

If one family member has already seen the selected movie, have them think of a leading question to ask everyone else before watching. For instance, they could tell everyone to look out for a certain famous shot or cameo actor, or ask them to think about whether a character’s decision was justified. After finishing the movie, share your reactions and opinions and discuss anything you learned. With this kind of thoughtful selection and setup, you might find that your Fourth of July movie night generates hours of fruitful conversation.