NELDON: Traditions may change, but sentiment doesn’t have to

For as long as I can remember, the 4th of July has meant a trek to the Four Flags Apple Festival Fairgrounds, a cooler packed with snacks and blankets and chairs in the trunk.

Hours before sunset, we would find the perfect viewing location and stake out our spot before wandering around the grounds to find friends. This was always an opportunity to see friends we had not seen since school let out a month before, or later in life, to reconnect with friends and family we had not seen in years.

With the smell of bug spray and elephant ears wafting through the field, we would toss around a frisbee and listen to the squeals of children as they lit sparklers.

As the sun went down, volunteers dressed head to toe in red, white, blue and neon would walk the grounds shouting, “glowsticks for sale!”, a sign that the show was about to begin.

No matter how old I was, the Niles 4th of July fireworks show has always felt like home.

This year, the show will not go on.

Like many traditions we look forward to year after year, the city of Niles made the difficult decision to cancel the annual fireworks show, determining that it would be too difficult to police the necessary social distancing and capacity measures put in place to make us safe from the continued spread of coronavirus.

A lot of folks have shared that they feel their rights have been stripped away from them at a time when we are supposed to be celebrating our freedoms. The traditionalist in me understands this feeling — my heart is a little broken at the loss of this event I have celebrated with my family for nearly 30 years. After so many months inside and physically separated, I crave the community feeling that comes with events like this.

However, I also know how difficult it would be to take precautions necessary to stay safe, and know this decision likely serves the greater good.

I would have a difficult time attending this community event without walking from car to car, saying hello to all my friends and neighbors. After months of being separated, it would be challenging not to hug folks I have not seen in months, and wearing masks outside in the heat we have been experiencing would not have been fun.

In the past several months, we have had to change the way we celebrate everything from birthdays to graduations. Concerts, fundraisers, sporting events, and community celebrations have been canceled across the globe. Even routine trips to the grocery store and doctor’s office have been altered.

Change has been the only constant, and it has not been easy.

In the past few weeks, we have covered multiple graduation ceremonies that have looked nothing like the celebrations we are used to covering. Students with their hearts set on traditions passed down for generations have still found a way to approach these celebrations with positive attitudes — the joy evident on their faces as they conquered enormous achievements.

Like these graduates, it is important we remember no matter how much change we are experiencing, there is still much to be celebrated. As our country continues to navigate toward healing, we need not take for granted our own health and well-being, when so many have suffered as a result of this pandemic.

This 4th of July will no doubt look different. For me, the trek to the Apple Festival grounds will be substituted with a quick drive to my parents’ house. There won’t be elephant ears or glow sticks, and there won’t be any reunions with friends, but we’ll light up the grill and enjoy a meal with those closest to us before watching fireworks set off by neighbors down the street.

It may not be the same celebration I’m used to, but we will celebrate nonetheless.

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