If you ever watched the movie Independence Day, you don’t need to be an American, to know that for every American family, watching the fireworks is a big tradition of the Independence Day celebration. In central Alaska, however, there is a problem called White Nights.
The white nights are called so because it doesn’t get dark. There is daylight or twilight 24-7 on the 4th of July (see diagram above). This means you could barely see fireworks if you would light fireworks. Thus, there are no fireworks on Independence Day in Fairbanks, Alaska.
You can imagine that I wondered for years why my grocery store and Sam’s Club offer fireworks for sale in the week prior to Independence Day. Who in Fairbanks would buy fireworks when there is no way to see them?
My only logic answer to my question was that there are always some people who don’t know what to do with their money. Pretty simple, right? However, on Independence Day a couple of years ago, I found another answer. Back then I learned that there are also some others who buy fireworks just in the hope to have their peace.
The latter statement sounds funny, I know. Here is how it plays out. Only about 30% of the Alaskans are born in Alaska. The other new Alaskans came from the airport as a young father once explained to his son (see story at the link). This means the majority of the Alaskans moved here. Among them are many families with their young children, especially military families.
Kids in the age group of 5 to 9 remember well former celebrations of Independence Day with their parents in the Lower 48s or even abroad on base. They remember that they were allowed to stay up late to watch the fireworks. They remember that the fireworks were loud, they were colorful and gorgeous. They were exciting and breath taking … and the kids know for sure that they want to see the beautiful magic seemingly ever changing displays in the sky again.
Of course, comes Independence Day, they ask to stay up late to watch the fireworks. They don’t believe their parents that there will be no fireworks in Fairbanks. The kids take “There are no fireworks on Independence Day in Fairbanks” as a lame excuse and keep on fighting to stay up late to watch the fireworks.
On that said Independence Day a couple of years ago, I saw a mom breaking out in tears, when she ran out of arguments about why the kids could not watch the fireworks. She had explained patiently to her oldest kid that the farther north a location is on the Northern Hemisphere, the longer is the daylight and the shorter are the night hours during summer. “Because there is light 24/7” she continued “it doesn’t get dark enough for fireworks in Fairbanks. Therefore, the Fairbanksans don’t do fireworks on Independence Day. You can’t see them during daylight” she explained. Even this argument had failed.
The kid started crying in plain anger with a red face that looked like the head would explode any time soon. The kid had made fists ready to fight the mom. The toddler joined the older kid now also insisting to stay up for the fireworks. Probably, it was just enough for the toddler that the older kid wanted it to want it too. Or may be its was just because mom had said “No.”
The young mom was at the edge to a nervous break down, when finally, the father said “I will buy fireworks on the way home and make a firework for you guys.” This offer of making peace wasn’t well taken. On the contrary, it was like he had put fuel into the fire. The kid argued that they didn’t want Dad’s “home-made fireworks”, but the really big one like last year in Fort Worth. Now the kid shouted as loud as possible for all world to hear “Yours is not the real thing. It’s fake like mom’s pizza. Pizza Hut is better. I want to stay up to watch the fireworks like you and mom.” Meanwhile all visitors in sound range had turned looking at the family fight. The mom started crying in despair.
Well, not all cities in Alaska have white nights. Adak, for instance, is located in the Aleutian Chain at 51°53′0″N latitude and 176°38′42″W longitude. For comparison, Hamburg in Germany is at 53°34′N, 10°00′E, i.e. farther north than Adak. Edmonton, Alberta is located at 53°32′N, 113°30′W. At these latitudes, it gets dark enough for fireworks.
Just a fun fact for Alaska fans:
Did you ever think about that Alaska has the farthest eastern (Peaked Island at 52°55′20″N 172°26′35″E in the Aleutians located west of Cape Wrangell on Attu Island), farthest northern Point Barrow (71° 23’N) and farthest western (Amatignak Island in the Aleutians at 51°15′44″N 179°06′31″W) point of the 50 states of the US? This fun fact is because Alaska crosses the 180o east-west meridian. Thus, some islands of the Aleutian Chain have coordinates with eastern longitudes.
Since it is a tradition to dress in patriotic colors on Independence Day, here some red-white and blue outfit inspirations from the blog.
Oliveo long leather skirt with Dr. Scholl wedge sandals, DIY long necklace (all own) and striped T-shirt c/o Marine Layer
You can find five tips to look polished in a patriotic outfit at the link.
What would you have done in the mom’s situation? What are your National Day traditions? Let me know, I am curious.
I wish all my American readers a Happy Independence Day.
Focus Alaska is a weekly series on Alaska lifestyle, events, curiousa, insider travel tips, Alaska shopping and street style.
Photos: G. Kramm
Copyright 2013-2017 Nicole Mölders | All rights reserved