The Tiny Town That’s Home to America’s Oldest July 4th Celebration

On the surface, Bristol, Rhode Island is a typical coastal New England town. Situated at the end of a peninsula near the Rhode Island-Massachusetts border, Bristol covers only about 10 square miles, and its population is fewer than 25,000. Many of its main landmarks are historic, including a 19th-century lighthouse and the Blithewold Mansion, a gigantic home with beautiful botanical gardens that was built in 1895. It’s also home to Roger Williams University, named for the founder of the state. But Bristol’s biggest claim to fame isn’t a physical landmark.

Bristol’s annual Fourth of July celebration, which takes over the town for the three weeks leading up to Independence Day, is the oldest shindig of its kind in America. (It even predates the Fourth of July being named a national holiday, which didn’t happen until 1870.)

The very first event took place in 1785, and was a decidedly subdued affair. According to town historian Richard V. Simpson, fewer than two dozen people attended a service with prayers, speeches, and singing at the town’s Congregational Church. Today, things have definitely changed. The celebration begins on Flag Day with a ceremony that includes the introduction of Miss and Little Miss Fourth of July (yes, that’s a thing; the winners are chosen in May) and a recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance. Over the next few weeks, there are dozens of quirky small-town events—think orange crate derbies, vintage baseball games, drum and bugle corps performances, and even a carnival—as well as a big fireworks display on July 3.

But Bristol’s patriotism really shines on July 4, when a parade travels two-and-a-half miles through the town. Though the parade hasn’t been without its problems—in 2009, a group called the Rhode Island Tea Party Association was barred from participating—it’s generally a charming affair, with floats, town dignitaries, and a Chief Marshal promenading along the waterfront.

“The celebrations began with less than 20 people and a simple procession in 1785,” Bristol Fourth of July General Committee member Ray Lavey told Mental Floss. “It’s wonderful to see the passion, excitement, and growth for Bristol’s Independence Day year after year.”

While it’s not a regular magnet for celebrities like the Macy's 4th of July Fireworks Spectacular (which didn’t get its start until 1976), Bristol has hosted a few well-known names: Natalie Cole attended the parade one year, as did Ray Bolger, the actor who played the Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz. Occasionally, a rep from one of New England’s sports teams—the New England Patriots or the Boston Bruins—will show up. No sign of Touchdown Tom Brady yet, but hey, you never know.

A version of this article appeared in 2015.

This $49 Video Game Design Course Will Teach You Everything From Coding to Digital Art Skills

EvgeniyShkolenko/iStock via Getty Images
EvgeniyShkolenko/iStock via Getty Images

If you spend the bulk of your free time playing video games and want to elevate your hobby into a career, you can take advantage of the School of Game Design’s lifetime membership, which is currently on sale for just $49. You can jump into your education as a beginner, or at any other skill level, to learn what you need to know about game development, design, coding, and artistry skills.

Gaming is a competitive industry, and understanding just programming or just artistry isn’t enough to land a job. The School of Game Design’s lifetime membership is set up to educate you in both fields so your resume and work can stand out.

The lifetime membership that’s currently discounted is intended to allow you to learn at your own pace so you don’t burn out, which would be pretty difficult to do because the lessons have you building advanced games in just your first few hours of learning. The remote classes will train you with step-by-step, hands-on projects that more than 50,000 other students around the world can vouch for.

Once you’ve nailed the basics, the lifetime membership provides unlimited access to thousands of dollars' worth of royalty-free game art and textures to use in your 2D or 3D designs. Support from instructors and professionals with over 16 years of game industry experience will guide you from start to finish, where you’ll be equipped to land a job doing something you truly love.

Earn money doing what you love with an education from the School of Game Design’s lifetime membership, currently discounted at $49.

 

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Instead of Taco Tuesday, Sweden Celebrates Taco Friday (or Taco Fredag)

ptpower, iStock via Getty Images
ptpower, iStock via Getty Images

If you think Swedish cuisine is limited to meatballs and herring, you've never celebrated Fredagsmys—the Swedish version of Taco Tuesday. The day, which translates to "cozy Fridays," is a chance for Swedes to get together with loved ones and eat comfort food at the end of a long week. And instead of indulging in more traditional Swedish fare, the Fredagsmys cuisine of choice is Tex-Mex.

Fredagsmys takes the already-Americanized taco and puts a Swedish spin on it. On Taco Fredag (Taco Friday), ingredients like tortillas, ground meat, peppers, and tomatoes are laid out smörgåsbord-style. The spread may also include some toppings that are rarely served with tacos outside of Scandinavia, such as yogurt, cucumber, peanuts, and pineapple. After assembling their meal, diners enjoy it in a cozy spot in front of the TV, ideally surrounded by pillows and candles.

The Swedish tradition of starting the weekend with a taco feast has only been around for a couple of decades. In the 1990s, the Swedish potato chip company OLW introduced the slogan “Now it’s cozy Friday time” into the national lexicon. Old El Paso capitalized on this concept with its own ad campaign showing Swedes how to assemble tacos at home. The Swedish spice company Santa Maria noticed the emerging trend and further popularized the idea of eating tacos on Fridays in its TV advertisements.

Tacos may be the food that's most closely associated with Fredagsmys today, but any quick junk food is appropriate for the occasion. Burgers and pizza are also popular items, as are candy, chips, and popcorn. The meal makes up just one part of the night: Settling in on the couch in pajamas to watch TV with loved ones is just as important as the food.

Making time for comforting indoor activities is a necessity in Sweden, where the weather is harsh and daylight is scarce for much of the year. The Danish do something similar with hygge, although tacos aren't an explicit part of that tradition.