Even though it falls on a weekday, area schools cannot be accused of causing any shortage of attendance at this areaís several Fourth of July celebrations ó as happened when school was scheduled for Memorial Day this year. And while some groups seek to draw parallels between the two holidays, they each celebrate a very different thing.

July 4, 1776, is the day that we celebrate our nationís freedom from an overseas government. Itís the day when the second Continental Congress voted to approve the Declaration of Independence, which announced the intent of the original 13 colonies to be free of Englandís rule. At that time our nation was made up of 2.5 million Americans, a number which has grown to an estimated 304 million today. Many say that democracy was born that day, that the nation was born. Neither is technically accurate, but that takes nothing away from the importance of the Fourth.

The holiday was celebrated in some cities as early as 1777, but it didnít gain widespread popularity until after the War of 1812 ó another conflict with England. In the coming years, major events were planned around the holiday, events like the opening of the Erie Canal ó an important interstate trade route ó in 1825.

Over the years fireworks and barbecues have become staples of the holiday, but at its core, the Fourth of July is a patriotic holiday, one where we celebrate the nation we live in, and its role in the world. A patriot is defined as someone who ďloves and zealously supports his country.Ē While Iím sure that nearly every one of us would rather live in the United States than any other country, I wonder how many different interpretations of ďlove and zealously supportĒ there are when people assign the title of patriot to another.

As our troops continue to engage in this nationís war on terror, many groups encourage us to show our support for the troops. If one doesnít, the trendy reaction is to accuse them of not being patriotic. As the presidential campaign enters full swing, the questions about one candidateís patriotic credentials are almost as numerous as the otherís praises. While the latterís track record would seem to prove his love of the country and dedication to it, unfounded internet and e-mail rumors seem to be the basis of criticism about the former.

In a 592-word guest editorial from supportourtroops.org, in which the group encourages us to remember the men and women who serve in this nationís armed forces, there are 24 references to supporting those troops ó or some variation of that concept. Itís not until the word number 554, in the next to last paragraph, that the author actually approaches defining that support, and then itís only to say ďcommit to personally do something tangible.Ē Without criticizing this group in particular, their message like so many others comes across as more style than substance. And thatís also a criticism that surfaces when our nation celebrates holidays like Memorial Day, the Fourth of July and Veterans Day. Lots of good messages, but little of substance in them.

We do need to support our troops by keeping them in our prayers, helping their families maintain a normal lifestyle by offering to help around the house and checking in periodically, as well as sending letters, cards and supplies to the men and women in the field. We also need to keep in mind the true meaning of the holidays we celebrate. They are more than a day off from work or school, more than a chance to go to the lake or cook out. We can do those things on any day of the year. National holidays are often a time of both celebration and reflection. They are so because they are held to recognize important events that helped shape our nationís history. As such, they should be more than catchy slogans and party-hats.

Bill Crist is associate publisher and general manager of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears on Wednesday. He may be reached by e-mail at bill.crist@brownwoodbulletin.com.