Roughly 40 miles from the Rose Bowl sits the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, in Ventura County’s Simi Valley. The library, which suffered considerable damage in a wildfire last October, typically holds a daylong celebration on July 4 that draws between 3,500 and 4,500 people.
“We’ve been doing this for over 20 years,” said Melissa Giller, chief marketing officer at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute, adding that July 4 was President Reagan’s favorite holiday.
Daytime activities for children abound, including face-painting, water-balloon tosses and horseshoes. “We have an indoor section where various look-alikes of our forefathers give 45-minute presentations on their life,” Ms. Giller said. An official Los Angeles Police Department band usually performs too.
This year, the marketing team started to brainstorm ways to shift the event online. It filmed Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln doppelgängers delivering monologues, and Boy Scout troops pledging allegiance to the flag from the library. Many of the arts and crafts activities — like coloring sheets and presidential bingo — can be downloaded on the library’s website.
The program is set to run roughly two hours, and will be streamed on YouTube. “What we’re losing is togetherness,” Ms. Giller said. “But what we’re gaining, the Reagan library as a brand, is we’re actually reaching more people now than we’ve ever reached before. We’ve been able to attract people who otherwise might not be able to come.”
Of course, there’s the possibility that losing traditions on a holiday like July 4 provides the chance to reimagine how Americans define nationhood, what this country symbolizes, and what is even worth celebrating.
“Its really about the ritual, and it’s not really about the meaning of the holiday itself,” said Nina Eliasoph, a sociology professor at the University of Southern California who specializes in political and cultural sociology.