Giving Thanks In July For Bristol, RI

Yes I know Thanksgiving is in November. Trust me I’m not rushing things. But why not be thankful on other days of the year? Like the 4th of July?  Aren’t both holidays oddly similar? In either case we are giving thanks to a greater cause, purpose or ancestral heritage are we not? There’s a parade. There’s more food than we can possibly consume. You’re surrounded by family and friends. Football….

Okay so there’s no football but I’ve got a replacement for that too. The point is both holidays boast similar traditions at different points of the year that become habitual attempts at recreating the best of times. Bristol, Rhode Island is no different and the town’s greatest traditions just happen to fall on the birthday of our fine nation.

Santa Claus doubles as Uncle Sam in Bristol.

In fact I’ll be so bold as to say Bristol, RI is the 4th of July. It’s an institution. It’s Thanksgiving on steroids. Everybody who was born, raised or has lived in Bristol gets the jitters once summer comes, food and parade preparation commence, the town’s population grows from 20,000 to 100,000 in the span of a few days and the red, white and blue decorations get broken out sooner than Christmas lights and trees the day after Thanksgiving.

Hell if we gave each other presents on the 4th of July most Bristolians would argue it’s a better holiday than Thanksgiving and Christmas combined!

Plus there’s no snow.

You may have stumbled upon a previous post I had about the town’s annual 4th of July parade and how the parade’s committee decided to shorten it. Well, that didn’t last long because after the jeers, irate public outcry and petitioning the committee decided it was in their best interest to not piss off Bristolians by messing with their tradition. So the parade went on as is. And everybody rejoiced.

That’s how big of a deal this day is for a tiny harbor town most people don’t know about. In Bristol the 4th of July isn’t just an excuse to have a BBQ and play corn hole.

But make no mistake there’s plenty of that going on too.

Let this born and raised Bristolian break it down for you.

I Got Your Macy’s Day Parade Right Here…

IMG_2423Okay, we don’t have as many inflatable cartoon characters or super heroes. But we do have the oldest and longest running 4th of July parade in the country. And trust me, it’s long! But that doesn’t stop Bristolians from getting down to the parade route as early as 3:00-4:00AM to claim their customIMG_2447ary spot.


Did I mention the parade doesn’t step off until 10:30AM? And nobody draws the short straw to sit on the side of the street in the dead of night either. It’s just what you do.

If You Thought Thanksgiving Dinner Was Impressive…

On the 4th of July in Bristol your Thanksgiving dinner spread is quadrupled. In place of turkey with all the fixings is anything you can throw on a grill or smoker complimented by dozens of customary and new salad recipes every single friend or family member decided to bring, along with a cooler of beer, some kind of fruit, fresh caught shellfish and a dessert that resembles the American Flag.

But pace yourselves friends. Pace yourselves. Unlike Thanksgiving you can’t go into a food coma on the 4th because it’s likely more friends will come over with more food and it’d be rude not to eat their offering of liberty. And even if you were rude your food coma will inevitably be interrupted by firecrackers. Karma’s a bitch. Just keep eating!

Your Small Family Circle Just Got Way Bigger…

Instead of each family’s outing being a private, intimate occasion, everybody’s backyard suddenly opens up to their neighborhood community where friends, family, old acquaintances and new ones are welcome. It’s a whole 24 hours of going back to a safer time when neighbors knew each other past Facebook friendship, their kids played on each other’s lawns instead of on social media and generosity wasn’t a commodity. And when you live on a peninsula with green lawns, beaches and boats what the hell do you need Snapchat for anyway?

Like I Said There’s No Football… Bummer…But…

Beat that skyline.

In place of football games are free harbor side concerts at Independence Park with sunsets most visual artists can’t get right. When the sun does set over the harbor, glow sticks and LED bracelets light up the park adorned by both kids and adults as the music kicks into full swing. Each concert features a live jukebox of top-notch cover bands performing everybody’s favorite playlists. IMG_2405You’ll be up and dancing like no one’s watching instead of struggling to get out of those uncomfortable lawn chairs you’ll most likely forget about because your red solo cup’s on E.

If you’re weird and don’t like free music there’s a massive carnival planted on the town common a few blocks away from the water. Every piece of nostalgic Americana is there that adults long for as their childhood comes rushing back while watching their kids experience the same feelings for the first time.

That’s the beauty of the 4th in Bristol. It’s generational. Adults and kids are on a level playing field of enjoyment. Well… save for the red solo cups of course!

The Day Before Holiday Travel Just Got Real…

Just because Bristol is used to throwing the best backyard 4th of July party this side of the Mississippi doesn’t mean you can decide to come into town on a whim. If you’re used to planning ahead for Turkey Day, make no exception for Bristol on the 4th.

Instead of dealing with flight delays, bad whether and hoards of people in the airports you’ll be dealing with traffic. The two single lane roads that send travelers through this tiny town turn into a parking lot as you’re suddenly envious of the people walking past your car with a clever device that’s carrying way more picnicking and party supplies you thought possible for a human being.

The Day Always Ends With A Bang…

Of course there’s fireworks! Everywhere! And if you find a perch on the water at Bristol Harbor not only will you see the town’s fireworks, or the neighborhood fireworks that we generally don’t talk about, you’ll see other town’s firework shows that are miles away lighting up the night sky. And once everybody’s had enough at around 1:00AM, you’re allowed to go into a food coma.

But don’t worry. If you work in Bristol not much is expected of you the next day. For the rest of you, remember, pace yourselves.

Independence Day = History = Tradition = Bristol

IMG_2436Bristol is a town of history. Houses and buildings that people passed by hundreds of years ago in horse drawn carriages still stand, preserved by those who call them home today. Those buildings line a parade route that has celebrated our nation’s independence practically since its’ inception. That route travels down a red, white and blue striped road called Hope St. that passes by Independence Park just off the shores of a harbor town that has seen a small community grow and advance while never forgetting where they came from.

That’s what the town of Bristol shares on the 4th.  Everybody’s welcome. Everybody’s family. That’s the custom and camaraderie the town’s residents have that makes the 4th so special. They’re not just giving thanks for the country’s Independence. They’re not just giving thanks for freedom in general. They’re giving thanks for the freedom to be Bristolians and they’re proud of it. I often wonder if all small towns have that level of community to relate to? I hope they do. It’s awfully patriotic. And worth giving thanks for on any given day.

9 thoughts on “Giving Thanks In July For Bristol, RI

  1. What a wonderful article! I too have been away from my hometown for 35 years. While you are growing up in Bristol, you just want to get away, go to the big city, but, as I was raising my son I always wished he could be raised in that small town. Where everyone knows everyone and your neighborhood was your family. Thanks for reminding me what Hometown really means.


      1. That’s usually how it is. I have lived from North NJ to South NJ. My heart is still in North NJ. Someday I’m going back to live in Bergen County. Probably Lyndhurst, the first town I lived in. In my early 30 s I lived in Rutherford, my heart belongs to Rutherford, 5 mins from NYC. Such a great place to live !!!
        Even though I live down in South NJ, My heart still is with North NJ !!!


  2. Well said! BRISTOL , Rhode Island should be on everybody’s TO DO list! You will definitely remember your time spent here!


    1. Agreed. And it’s a pleasure to write about all the amazing things that are happening right in the town you grew up in. Thanks so much for reading! Hope you check back soon! Cheers!


  3. Mark your post is spot on. Unless you live in Bristol you can’t appreciate what it’s like….until a bristolian invites you to join them. I try to invite newbies each year and their reaction is always the same ….WOW. It’s the best experience. Having lived away for 20 years and retuning home 5 years ago, I don’t ever want to leave again. Bristol is amazing all the time but 4th of July is like no other holiday!

    I wanted to add that I had the pleasure of seeing things from the other side this year……my daughter Tiffany Brooks was first runner up in the Miss 4th pageant (another unique part of this special holiday we have our own Pageant queen and court). I had never been to every event and I am blown away as to what goes into each and every event through July 5th. That committee works so hard to be sure we all have these events to make this such a special holiday. I know there were challenges with parade routes and drum and bugle competitions but those things aside, that committee of ALL volunteers truly blew me away with their passion and dedication! Thanks to all committee volunteers, Okie, families, friends and all the people who attend each event and all those donating money and enjoying social family time! Proud to be a Bristolian!


    1. Absolutely Jamie. I recently moved back to the area after being away for 12 years and there’s so many moving parts to coordinate that make these events special. It truly is a unique experience. Congrats on your daughter’s success and thanks for reading! There’s plenty more where this came from but I’m always proud and inspired to write about my hometown.


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