The Fourth of July, a uniting national force, is around the corner, and in Massachusetts and its neighboring states, the holiday holds historic significance.
New England was the home of the first American settlers, served as the central backdrop for pivotal battles in the Revolutionary War and continues to represent the democratic values enshrined in the Constitution — think Town Meeting.
In recognition and celebration of the region and country’s history, residents tend to go big with their Independence Day festivities, and there’s possibly no bigger parade than that in Chelmsford.
Starting at McCarthy Middle School at 10 a.m. Tuesday, the parade will move along North Road through the town center toward the Chelmsford Public Library. Jeff Hardy, chair of the Chelmsford Parade Committee, said police and fire departments estimated 15,000 to 30,000 attendees in years past.
Given the extreme popularity, residents will set up chairs — effectively placeholders — along the route to ensure a good view of the processional. The practice is so common that the Department of Public Works cracks down on those who set up too early. This year, people have to wait until 12 p.m. Saturday to claim their spot.
Each year, the parade also spotlights a Hometown Hero, a local who made a considerable difference that year, Hardy said. They found their hero in former Police Chief Jim Spinney, who retired at the end of May after serving almost 33 years in law enforcement.
“Jimmy was phenomenal. He was a great chief and a very kind person, and you could see that at his retirement party, all the respect of the other officers that worked under him,” Hardy said. “It kind of solidified it for me that day, seeing how the whole force comes together.”
Chelmsford’s parade marshals are John and Linda Carson, a husband and wife duo who organize the annual two-mile John Carson Road Race in honor of their son, John, a record-breaking Chelmsford High School distance runner who passed away in 1987. The run takes place 30 minutes before the parade.
Special parade guests also include Chelmsford youth organizations and sports teams, elected officials and Pat Patriot alongside cheerleaders for the New England Patriots. But the real draw, at least according to Town Manager Paul Cohen, is the entertainment.
“The Parade Committee is very consciously expanding the diversity of the bands in the parade, because we really want to expand our audience,” Cohen said. “We are, by fact, the largest Fourth of July parade in the Greater Lowell area, and so we’re really taking a step forward to expand the diversity of the musical talent in the parade.”
Paradegoers will view performances from the classics: the Chelmsford Minutemen, Chelmsford Community Band and the Suburbanettes Twirl Team. But Cohen said this year, the town invited Chinese lion dancers, Spirit of Africa, the Worcester Kiltie Pipe Band, Latin dancers and a mariachi band to perform for the crowd.
The party starts July 2, with a free concert in the center common from 6-8 p.m. and an art festival at the Chelmsford Center for the Arts from 5-8 p.m. On Monday, the CCA continues its art festival from 3-9 p.m., and the Chelmsford Lions Club’s Country Fair kicks off at 5 p.m. in the center common. There will also be kiddie train rides at the rear of the public gardens from 5-8 p.m. and a Chelmsford Community Band concert at the center common from 7-8:30 p.m.
The big three-day affair went on hiatus during the pandemic, but now that it’s officially returned, Hardy said it’s back in full force.
“COVID cut into us a little bit,” Hardy said. “Now we’re finally past that, I feel like we’re going to be back to normal this year.”
Stepping outside of Chelmsford, residents closer to Lowell can enjoy their own celebration at Boarding House Park, where musical acts and food trucks will open at 5 p.m. on French Street July 4. Performances will continue until 8 p.m., when attendees will head to Bridge Street for a clear view of the fireworks display, which starts around 9:03 p.m.
Diandra Silk, the assistant director of communications and marketing for Lowell Cultural Affairs & Special Events, said the evening will also include face painting and roving performances that will add to the experience.
“I’m particularly excited about the bubbles,” Silk said. “I think those are always a big hit for all ages … I’m excited to see (everything) against the backdrop of Boarding House Park and then also with the fireworks, it should be just a really special night in Lowell.”
With the change in venue — previously at LeLacheur Park — City Manager Tom Golden wrote in a press release that he anticipates a fun, family-friendly time.
“We’re beyond excited to bring our Fourth of July celebration to Boarding House Park this year,” Golden stated. “We’re looking forward to a fun evening filled with good food, music, and celebrations with neighbors, friends, and family. We’re grateful to the National Park Service for their support in bringing these festivities to a venue ideally suited for reflecting on how far we’ve come as a city.”
Further west, Fitchburg’s Civic Days begins with a block party of more than 100 vendors on Main Street from 4-10 p.m. Monday, followed by fireworks at 10 p.m. and the parade Tuesday beginning at 10 a.m.
If you’re interested in simply catching a local fireworks display, a number of surrounding towns are gearing up for their own explosive show before, on or after the big day.
Wilmington: July 1 at 9 p.m. at the Wilmington High School field
Pepperell: July 1 at 9:30 p.m. at Nissitissit Middle School’s Athletic Field
Tewksbury: July 3 at 9:30 p.m. at Livingston Street Park
Fitchburg: July 3 at 10 p.m. at the Rollstone Hill quarry
Lowell: July 4 at 9:03 p.m. at Bridge Street (near Boarding House Park)
Groton: July 10 at 9:15 p.m. at Groton Field on Playground Road.