If you regularly celebrate Independence Day where the Declaration of Independence was ratified, you've likely done Wawa Welcome America. And rightly so. The city's official event features seven program-packed days full of concerts, fireworks, free museums, and hoagies. It's a great way for tourists and locals alike to see some of the best Philly has to offer.
But I'd like to present an alternative: my native Northeast Philadelphia's 103rd annual July 4th celebration in Lawncrest. Never heard of it? That's because in a city of neighborhoods, we never quite celebrate them all equally. This wonderful, maddening, layered city of ours has so many surprises left for you to find. Lawncrest's July 4th affair is one of them.
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If you have any distant stereotype of the Northeast, forget it for a moment. Lawncrest is one of the city's most diverse neighborhoods, served by the Lawncrest Community Association and the dedicated volunteer Fourth of July Committee. Lawncrest is a far denser, more engaged neighborhood than you might imagine from afar, and its July 4th celebration reflects the best of what this tight-knit community has to offer. Among the thousands of attendees, you'll find black families and white, immigrants and native Philadelphians, young and old, with a good chance you'll hear several different languages throughout the day's festivities.
Don't misunderstand: I've spent many a sweltering July 4th enjoying our city's massive Welcome America celebration, and I'll no doubt return. We shouldn't discount the coordination necessary for one of the largest free concerts in the country, with a mix of history and food and good cheer. And did I mention the hoagies? But if you're looking for a change of pace and want to see another of Philly's neighborhoods donning its best, skip the Parkway this year and head to Rising Sun Avenue.
Lawncrest neighbors have rallied multiple times over several decades to save the imperiled July 4th event — first when city funding for community parades dried up, and again when a slow start to fund-raising jeopardized the 95th annual celebration. Powered by beef and beers, T-shirt sales and local business donations, a dedicated group of volunteers manages to keep this tradition alive.
This year, Lawncrest's Fourth of July Committee set up a GoFundMe page to help pull off another robust day. The activities include a parade, flag-raising ceremony, flea market, car show, food court, carnival-style games, live entertainment, and more — all centered around Lawncrest Rec Center. The day ends with families packed onto blankets and lawn chairs at dusk for a fireworks display, with the Mister Softee truck idling in the background and front-yard radios silenced for the show. The whole thing manages to feel both like Small Town America and also one of the most welcoming, diverse places in the entire city.
With every passing year, Philly becomes more of a destination. My husband and I are Airbnb hosts, frequently welcoming people from all over the world into our home. They want to see the Liberty Bell and Elfreth's Alley. But they also want to stroll Frankford Avenue in Fishtown, do a bar crawl in East Passyunk, and ride the El through West Philly to spot the Love Letter murals. Neighborhoods are gloriously becoming part of the tourist experience. And unlike many other cities, Philly actually does a pretty great job of showing some of them off. So we, the residents of Philadelphia, need to become familiar with more of them.
Like this city, the Lawncrest July 4th Celebration is old and challenged and vibrant, honoring the past and evolving into something new all the time. It's a great place to start.
Shannon Wink is a Northeast Philly native and Fishtown resident who spent 10 years reporting on Philadelphia and its neighborhoods.