A family trip to Europe reveals more meaning for 4th of July

Does independence, liberty and self-rule get lost with picnics and fireworks? Is it time to rediscover our ancient history? Photo: Russian musicians at Catherine the Great palace near St. Petersburg.

NORTHFIELD, Minn., July 3, 2012 — July 4th celebrations in the U.S. may be so steeped with traditions of a day off from work, picnics, parades, and fireworks that the real meaning can be missed. The actual Declaration of Independence took place in 1776 – ancient history to most of us. However, the real meaning of independence became clearer to our family on a cruise of the Baltic Seas where more current history came alive.

It was 2010, and July 4th arrived as we were nearing the end of our fifteen-day European adventure that we had embarked upon soon after our son graduated from high school. In the aftermath of the graduation, and the hectic pace to prepare for our family trip, I did not even notice we would be out of the United States on the 4th of July.

Although unplanned, there were many lessons about independence leading up to our celebration of July 4th.

St. Petersburg, Russia was one of our stops. The last time I had been there, the city was called Leningrad, named after Vladmir Lenin, the former head of government.  During my previous visit, the USSR was intact; the name change was made in 1991 to mark newly independent rule (between 1922 and 1991 the USSR was ruled as a single-party state). 

On a tour of Catherine the Great palace outside of St. Petersburg, we listened to pensioners play music in their red, yellow and blue uniforms. The changes these elders had seen in their lifetime were unimaginable. And now, they play while people pay to see the empty palace, marking a former Russian heyday. Our family also enjoyed a classic performance of Swan Lake while in St. Petersburg.

Swan Lake ballet performance in St. Petersburg, Russia.


During a visit to Tallin, Estonia, we learned that they had declared independence from Soviet rule after 47 years on August 20, 1991. On a visit to the Song Festival Grounds, the story was told of how 34,000 singers and dancers plus an audience would gather annually to hold onto their cultural stories and costumes. And we drove down streets where beautifully restored homes sat next to crumbling ones. The tour guide said that after independence much effort was made to identify the family who had owned the home 47 years previously. Some houses were still searching for owners to become a home again.

Berlin, Germany was also on our itinerary prior to our July 4th celebration. We walked along the site of the former Berlin Wall, and learned about the collapse of the Communist rule in East Germany marked by November 9, 1989 when the government allowed residents to travel beyond their borders. This was my family’s first visit to Berlin. It was my second, and the first time a portion of Berlin was in the Germany Democratic Republic and the Berlin Wall was in place. Now, families divided by that wall were reunited, and under one government.

It turned out that the July 4th holiday in 2010 was a day at sea on our cruise ship. The management of the ship seemed even to have forgotten the upcoming holiday.  One of the guitar playing and singing American entertainers told us in the elevator that he had just been asked to stay on the ship a few extra days to provide entertainment. So we were encouraged to don our red, white and blue clothes and sing along to patriotic songs.

My thirteen-year-old daughter had decided that a great souvenir from each country we visited would be a small flag. So in each port we scrambled to find a flag. By the time we attended the deck party on the 4th of July our ship, she was the proud owner of flags from England, Norway, Sweden, Russia, Estonia, and Germany.

When she was asked by a crewmember if she wanted a very small, cheap looking American flag she said, “No, I can get one of those at home.” Yet to this day she still doesn’t have an American flag in her collection. We spent one day in each of several countries and have their flags. We were amiss not having one of our own flag in her collection, no matter the size or quality.

For many of the countries we visited, their independence was gained during my adult lifetime. The history is even current history for my teenage children. The contrast to our “ancient” USA Declaration of Independence is startling.

Please Comment: Is the ancient history of our America’s independence alive and well? Or have we fizzled it away in shopping, eating, and shooting off fireworks?

Read more from Donna Rae Scheffert at Washington Times Communities and Online Leadership Tools. Donna Rae is an award winning writer, consultant, planner, facilitator, and coach. One Minnesota organization gave her a coveted ‘Futures’ award. Another named her the 2002 Outstanding Faculty member. She has co-authored five books and numerous articles. She is the founder of the consulting firm Leadership Tools.

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Donna Rae Scheffert

Donna Rae Scheffert is a facilitator, consultant and writer. Find more information online at www.online-leadership-tools.com

She lives in Minnesota with her husband and teenage son and daughter.

Honors and awards include University of Minnesota -Distinguished Extension Campus Faculty Award; Minnesota Rural Futures-FUTURES award; and numerous state and national awards for programs and publications.

Scheffert is an author of practical fieldbooks: Committees That Work: Common Traps and Creative Solutions; Social Capital, Building Leadership Programs, and Facilitation Resources available from http://www.online-leadership-tools.com/Scheffert-Tools.html

Donna Rae is also a Senior Consultant with www.Action-Wheel.com and an Associate with www.deepSEEconsulting.com.

Her civic participation includes: Board Member-Community Action Center; Board Member-Women’s Philanthropic Group, and soccer team coordinator.

Photo Credit: Amber Procaccini

Leadership development expert & educator, Donna Rae Scheffert knows how public action by others for others improves lives - she helps people to get involved and provides tools to propel them toward their goals easier, faster, and with more fun. Read more from Donna Rae at www.online-leadership-tools

Follow Donna Rae www.Twitter.com or www.facebook.com or www.linkedin.com





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