On most American holidays, people like to gather around a table, enjoy food and family, and take some quiet time to reflect upon their blessings. But not the Fourth of July. In order to celebrate America's independence, we like to blow stuff up.
Whether you're in New York, New Orleans or Nashville, the Fourth of July is all about going outside and watching fireworks. And as America gears up to celebrate its 231st birthday, its biggest cities are competing to host the most spectacular displays and attract the most visitors.
Modern fireworks displays have evolved far beyond simple blossoms and rockets. This year's fireworks show on the Mall in Washington, D.C., will feature one of the latest pyrotechnic innovations, "the Cube" from LaFollette, Tenn.-based fireworks company Pyro Shows, in which shells burst to form three-dimensional see-through boxes.
"This is the first time the audience at the Mall will see the Cube," says Lansden Hill, president of Pyro Shows. "We'll also use fireworks from Spain and China that are especially made for celebration in the nation's capital."
Washington might be the seat of American government but Philadelphia was its birthplace, and the city takes its July Fourth celebrations very seriously. Last year 3 million visitors attended the City of Brotherly Love's "Sunoco Welcome America" bash.
"[Philadelphia's] celebration is about providing opportunity to people within the area and the region to celebrate the freedom that is so hard fought and hard won," says Sunoco Welcome America CEO Clifton Davis. "Freedom is one of our closest held values, and we are proud to celebrate it."
The week-long celebration in Philly features not only some of the best fireworks in the nation but also a star-studded concert and carnival. Eight-time Grammy-winning R&B diva Chaka Khan, known for her smash hits "I'm Every Woman" and "Ain't Nobody," will perform.
Philadelphia hopes its celebration will also break the world record for the largest salsa dance in history during the Fiesta Goya Salsa con Salsa , which features 2005 Latin Grammy nominee Michael Stuart and salsa master Adalberto Santiago.
Competing against the Northeast's fireworks celebrations is the annual "Freedom Over Texas" celebration in Houston, which boasts the nation's largest land-based fireworks extravaganza.
Houston celebrates America's birthday this year with a colossal display of fireworks choreographed to country music performances by Montgomery Gentry, winner of the Vocal Duo of the Year award at 2000's Country Music Awards.
Partyers in Space City have options apart from the concert and fireworks, like the Bud Light Texas Volleyball Championship Court or the Budweiser Beer Garden.
Houston's big bang fireworks are by Pyro Spectaculars by Souza, which brings fireworks displays to some of the biggest Independence Day celebrations in the nation, including the Macy's July Fourth Spectacular in New York and Los Angeles' Rose Bowl.
This year, Pyro Spectaculars will introduce High Definition fireworks at various locations, says Jim Souza, president of Pyro Spectaculars by Souza. "These fireworks have wider firing areas. ... They have brighter colors, shapes and fires which look much brighter to the audience and on the television."
Of course, even the most-high tech pyrotechnics aren't as fun on TV as they are in real life. So turn off the tube, get off the couch and pick a destination. Here are 10 places you can visit for a first-rate Fourth of July celebration.
© 2012 Forbes.com