“We, the people”_” doesn’t have to mean that “You, the hostess”_” have to go un-thanked! Just some savvy twists on the traditional approaches will make your 4th of July gathering remembered by everyone.

July 4th should mean more than just the casual picnics and the red, white and blue colors that we often see. Today, many people take for granted the fact that the life they lead is a direct result of the sacrifice and hardship of others — in the past and even in the present. That said, this 4th of July should be one that we embrace not only the Independent spirit, but a true understanding of what it really means to be free. The simple task of hanging a flag and decorations has become, I think, too routine. My 4th of July celebration is filled with creativity and spirit while learning valuable lessons and facts about our nation’s heritage.

Here are some examples of what I’m planning to do:

Table and Decorations

DRESS UP YOUR NAPKINS:
Paper napkins are, I’m sorry, unpatriotic! Red, white and blue ribbons are available at any fabric store. Simply taking a plain cotton napkin and tying it with one, two or three of these colored ribbons is an easy way to make the table more festive — and totally recyclable, too.

RED, WHITE AND BLUE FLORAL CENTERPIECE: 
You will need: carnations, florists’ oasis, and a decorative but shallow blue bowl. Carnations are back — and although inexpensive I use them to great effect! You’ll need approximately 18 red and 18 white ones for this project. They’re such an appropriate flower for this holiday because they are hardy, plentiful, and long-lasting — great American traits, too, I think!

Start with a round piece of florist’s oasis. Standard ball-shaped oasis are 6 inches across; I like the 12 inch ones; if you can’t find one that large, you may need to create one by taping together several bricks and then trimming to shape. No matter what shape you start with, make sure you create a level bottom section so the ball doesn’t roll. 
Saturate the oasis with water.

Trim each carnation about 2 inches from the bloom, and insert them into the oasis.

Create a striped pattern to mimic the stripes on the flag. I like to go top-to-bottom, like a beach-ball, versus around the horizon, but it’s up to you.

Place the completed oasis in the shallow bowl. I like to add some more water at this point to make sure the oasis is saturated.

Options: You can use food coloring to turn some of your white carnations blue! Simply place blue food coloring in water, then allow the carnation stems — not the blooms! — to rest in this blue water overnight. This way you can use all 3 colors to create your centerpiece. If you try this, you’ll find that a white bowl looks best to house your finished project.

PATRIOTIC TEA LIGHTS:
The Boston Tea Party was an important act of insurrection, but it doesn’t mean that tea lights aren’t welcome on your 4th of July table! This easy twist on table lighting will make your guests envious that they didn’t think of it, while adding a touch of whimsy.

Forget about traditional votive candle holders — try martini glasses for this, they give you more height off the table. Find the red, white and blue candy sprinkles (yes, the ones for ice cream or cakes) and fill each glass half-way. Nestle the tea light in the sprinkles and you’re done. Don’t be afraid of the “fake” tea lights that operate off a battery. They flicker realistically, and many can be turned off, allowing them to be used up to 36 hours.

AUTOGRAPHED TABLE CLOTH:
Why use an actual cloth table cover? Try a roll of white butcher paper or restaurant table paper. 

Now use a black pen (example: a Sharpie) to copy the signatures from the Declaration of Independence — but much larger.

The fun of this is in doing it — so it make s a great way to get kids involved in preparing for your guests. As guests arrive you can ask them to literally “sign in” on the table alongside our illustrious forbears.

QUICK RED, WHITE AND BLUE TABLECLOTH:
Another patriotic table-dressing option is to start with a simple white tablecloth. Lay red and blue bandanas on the diagonal down the center of the table; the corners of the bandanas should overlap by a few inches.

TAKE HOME HISTORY:
Print copies of the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution; quick Google searches resulted in numerous legitimate sites for me, so you’ll have no trouble finding them.

Roll them, tie with your remaining red, white and blue ribbon, and alternate them at your place settings.

If your guests are feeling particularly patriotic that evening, you can suggest that someone read sections of these amazing documents out loud.

DECORATIONS FOR THE 4th:
Tight on space but want to show your patriotism? I like to display a full-sized US flag in my window where guests can see it. In a window, the proper etiquette is a follows: Hang the flag vertically with the stars to left of anyone looking at it from the street.

Vintage flags are a wonderful find — whether they are framed or not. They add a great sense of history to the occasion. I have a collection of old 3x5inch cloth flags mounted on sticks; the white sections had turned to a cream color by the time they came into my possession, which gives them so much character. I love adding them to centerpieces, trellises, and flowerboxes and showing them off; I think they speak volumes because they are only on display for important holidays.

No time like the present to start your own flag collection (and maybe even an important family tradition): get a new flag in honor of the holiday, and feature it proudly. Whether you decide to show it off only for important holidays or leave it up all year, Betsy Ross would be proud!

THE “GUEST TEST”:
I like to use questions from the official US Citizenship Test to determine which of my guests have what it takes to go from “guests of the country” to citizens. This is great fun, but carries a good message: For those of us born here, we take all this required knowledge for granted. I recently tried this myself with my friends, and although I scored well there were many moments of “umm” that made us stop and ponder.

You can find questions (as “practice” tests) on the US Immigration web site.

How to play: You can certainly come up with your own method of asking the questions (it is a free country, after all!) but here’s how I do it. I write out each questions (and it’s answer) on an index card; one red, one white and one, blue — of course! I place three under each person’s plate, and between the main course and dessert the cards are revealed when the plates are cleared. Each person reads out their question, and the table must call out the answers.

Examples:

– “How many stripes on the flag? Why?” 
– “What are the branches of the government?” 
– “What are the duties of the congress?” 
– “Name the rights protected by the first 3 amendments to the constitution.”

How’d you do? Did it pique your interest?

The 4th of July should not just be about parties, food, and — for some — drinking. Your gathering should be a way to remember why we can enjoy those things at all. Of course you should have fun – I certainly do! – take a moment to reflect on why we are doing it. Coordinate with your neighbors to each own a flag to hang. Flags make the perfect gift to say hello, welcome a new neighbor or even just as a special gift. Nothing can be more American than a street lined with flags. Each home displaying their own creative display. Weather you hang one in the window, hang from a pole or place in your planters a flag regardless of the 4th will always bring your neighbor, home, condo or office together. One look at the spirit of the red white and blue will bring joy to all. Firework displays will always catch our breath with delight, but a patriot soul will always warm the heart.

And there you have it.