Patriotic Ways To Help America, Because July 4th

The 4th of July is usually thought of as THE party of the summer. With the theme already chosen — ‘merica, duh — and endless red, white, and blue dessert options to choose from, marking July 4th often mostly about planning how you're going to party. But with all the anticipation over memorable fireworks shows, parades, patriotic outfit options, pool parties, and barbecues, it is all too easy to forget the historical reason behind our annual summer get-together.

Although most Americans know that Independence Day celebrates the adoption of the Declaration of Independence — proclaiming our separation from Great Britain and solidifying our country’s commitment to freedom — most 4th of July parties are usually only superficially patriotic.

And while we can all enjoy wearing our American flag shirts, baking our friends strawberry/blueberry/whipped cream cupcakes, stocking up on sparklers, and lighting our tiki torches, there are also an array of rewarding and patriotic activities that we can all participate in before our Independence Day parties this year. Because even if you're sometimes critical of our country and its government, this is also our home — and it's nice to give back to it.

Here are nine simple ways we can all be patriotic before firing up our grills this July 4th:

Help Clean-Up America

David McNew/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Get together with some friends or neighbors and pick up litter around your community. Many states have formal programs for litter clean up, but you can even just get a group of your friends together and walk around the neighborhood with some gloves and a trash bag. No matter how you approach it, a cleaner America benefits us all.

Register to Vote

Scott Olson/Getty Images News/Getty Images

This is an obvious one. Once you're registered to vote, you'll be able to participate in the democracy we began fighting for over 200 years ago. Nothing says nationalism quite like casting your opinion for presidency, state officials, or town budgets!

Volunteer or Donate to the VA

John Moore/Getty Images News/Getty Images

While it is no secret that the Department of Veterans Affairs has been in some hot water lately, the department still functions to aid veterans and their families. Volunteering or donating to the VA is a simple way to assist the men and women who fight for our country.

Adopt a Soldier

Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Becoming a Soldier’s Angel means committing to sending one letter a week to a member of U.S. military, and one care-package per month. Alternately, for just a dollar a month and the cost of postage, you could become a member of their letter writing team, where you write to a different soldier for each day you can commit to. The Soldier’s Angels program is an inexpensive and hands-on way to pay tribute to our servicemen and women.

Donate Clothing to Veterans

Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images News/Getty Images

With spring cleaning inevitably comes piles upon piles of clothes to get rid of. This summer, why not consider donating your gently-used clothing or household goods to Vietnam Veterans?

Teach yourself more about the 4th of July

Andrew Burton/Getty Images News/Getty Images

With all of the commercial hoopla around Independence day, it is all too easy to forget the reason behind the celebration in the first place. This year, why not add a new tradition to your festivities and spend some time learning more about the historic day?

Help build homes for Veterans

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Another great way to work with your friends is by volunteering to build a house for a veteran and helping a service family in need.

Donate Frequent Flyer Miles/Hotel Points

Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Using your extra mileage points, the Hero Miles program is able to fly wounded service members or their families to hospitals. Hotels for Heroes provides a place for the families of injured service members to stay while their family member is at the hospital.

Keep it Simple

Kent Nishimura/Getty Images News/Getty Images

This 4th of July, remember what you are celebrating and to make a point to appreciate the freedoms and privileges that come with being an American. Take the time thank a veteran, firefighter, or any other service member for their time and sacrifice. Whether it is your neighbor, aunt, or a friend’s brother, just taking the time to recognize the sacrifices others have made for our freedoms is the perfect way to honor your country this Independence Day. (And then you can party!)