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It’s by far the greatest of all our national holidays. Independence Day. The Fourth of July.

Stars and Stripes everywhere you turn. The smell of hot dogs fill the air. There is good company, perhaps at a pool, an ocean or a lake. It’s all one huge buildup for the fireworks that will take place later that night.

Only Christmas rivals the Fourth of July in terms of anticipation, and that takes more than a month to achieve. The best part of the Fourth — no gifts. I’m not spending money I don’t have on people I don’t like, buying them things they don’t need.

The only thing to do on the Fourth of July is to celebrate. And what are we celebrating? The birth of our nation. It was 232 years ago that those 56 men of vision endorsed a document that would change the world.

The Declaration of Independence begins: “When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitled them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.’

How’s that for eloquence? I didn’t catch all the implications of that when I was a 6-year-old. All I knew was that there were going to be fireworks tonight somewhere. I was either going to the South Common in Lowell with my parents, or if they were real lucky, I’d be invited by a friend’s family to go see a fireworks display somewhere out of town.

Either way, I was going to see the rockets’ red glare somewhere tonight.

The Fourth of July falls on a Friday this year. That’s awesome. That makes it a long weekend for most people.

My Fourth begins on July 3. The Dracut fireworks at the Daoulas School Complex. It’s the warm-up act to the big night. You just pull up a piece of real estate, listen to the music — Brandy is playing this year — and greet everyone that walks by.

On the Fourth of July, we’ll head over to Jon and Lisa’s for a cookout and then into Boston around 5 p.m. We’ll park underneath the Boston Common, grab our lawn chairs and backpacks filled with snacks and soft drinks and walk down to the middle of the Esplanade. It’s hard to explain, but our spot is almost halfway between the Longfellow Bridge and the Mass. Ave. Bridge. It’s a point where the Charles River comes in and almost meets with Storrow Drive. There’s a retaining wall and a walkway. Not much green space. Certainly no room to put down a blanket or set up a picnic.

We sit and wait. We listen to Keith Lockhart and the Boston Pops. We watch the boats on the river, maybe take a walk to Starbucks down the street. Last year, my daughter Kathleen and I ran into Mayor Thomas Menino. He was heading up to someone’s rooftop where I’m sure there was some lobster and shrimp. At 10 p.m., the show begins. Like nothing you’ve ever seen before. It would be an injustice for me to try to describe them here.

I’ve seen the Fourth of July fireworks from the Mall in Washington. I’ve seen them from the Iwo Jima Memorial in Arlington, Va. — that was spectacular visually, but you were too far away to feel them in the pit of your stomach. I’ve been on the Mt. Washington as it sailed around Lake Winnipesaukee. I’ve seen the Disney fireworks at Magic Kingdom, shooting into the air just behind Cinderella’s castle, just like you see before every Disney movie.

Years ago, before the Pride came to Nashua,I sat in the infield at Holman Stadium, where we were so close that the hot embers fell on the stroller that held my 6-month-old daughter.

On Saturday, after a family reunion takes place around 1 p.m., we’ll head to my boss’ house in Pepperell for a bit of real Americana. Just driving through the town center gives one a sense of patriotism. The homes are all decorated with bunting and flags and the town’s impressive fireworks display is kind of like a slice of chocolate cake after the big, Boston bash.

By the time we get home, I’m wiped out. But I’m never too tired, it seems, to take a dip in the pool under a cloudless, moonlit sky — It’s usually close to a full moon around July 4. I usually don’t wear my patriotism or my religion on my sleeve, but I usually take a couple of moments, sitting there in the back yard, to thank God for allowing me to live in the greatest country on Earth.

God Bless America.

Want to comment? Dennis Shaughnessey’s e-mail address is dshaughnessey@lowellsun.com.