Married to a Brit, I always find the 4th of July slightly amusing: the mixture of resentment and bemusement displayed can be entertaining! (In fact, one of my favorite photographs EVER is one of my husband standing at a 4th of July Small Town parade, bag over his head to keep the torrential rain off, waving a tiny American flag which was stuck in his hand by a passerby. It's perfect!).
But that cultural conflict actually has wider implications, not least of which a sense of TIME. A country which is 250 years old simply doesn't have the same sense of integral history as cultures which still regularly use 6- and 700 year old buildings as part of daily life, and where it's seldom more than a day trip to visit the semi-intact ruins of the Romans, the Greeks or beyond. These things are simply THERE, and a given, accepted part of the cultural landscape.
In his teaching, my husband is consistently taken aback by the fairly standard structure of American music appreciation and music history classes, where the real study seems to start with the Renaissance, while anything before that usually gets lumped together as "ancient music".
The same is true with non-musical history. Students frequently have no concept of time before the iconic date of 1776, and many find it hard to place anything before their own time. Many music students may know nothing of Napoleon except perhaps something that was mentioned in passing when they learned about Beethoven; the Armada, Austro-Hungarian empire and Ataturk are complete mysteries with which they are totally unfamiliar even as vague names and places. And it's not limited to world history, either: one college history teacher we know hands out a short quiz on the first day of class, asking the students to place in chronological order the Depression, the Civil War, the Kennedy Assassination and the Korean War - very few of his 17-25 year old students get it right.
Our daughter has grown up in a US community where the oldest standing building is about 150 years old, and there is no doubt she is a true child of the 21st century, in a world where television, digital photos, cellphones and computers are a normal (and, as she sees it, necessary!) part of her daily landscape. Like many of her peers, her sense of time is truncated by a lack of hands-on evidence of anything earlier. We had a long talk the other day about how different it is to understand the past when history - real history, hundreds and maybe even thousands of years old - is RIGHT THERE in front of you: not something you read about, but something you see, and use, and understand is a real, living THING... because it's still there.
Although American, I've lived in Europe for so much of my life that I think I've taken this naturalness and constant presence of history for granted (that, and living the music in my professional life, too, I suppose - how you can NOT know something about the French Revolution if you've performed The Marriage of Figaro, or even Andrea Chenier?); it's in my own consciousness, and I forget that for many - including my own daughter - that it's just not part of their lives.
This year and last year are for sure important, but we could all stand to give Very Long Time Ago a little more attention too. Perhaps a holiday built around a historic moment is as good a time as any to think about it a little more.