What's the Fourth of July about, really?
Stating that it "commemorates the adoption of the Declaration of Independence in 1776" or that it "celebrates American liberty" is, of course — strictly speaking — accurate. But if we're honest with ourselves, and if we consider what the United States' major midsummer holiday has come to look, sound and even smell like over the years, both of those historically correct assertions begin to feel a little .... incomplete. A little narrow.
There's no question that a good number of people celebrating the Fourth do, at some point during the festivities, take a moment to reflect on the very reason that the holiday exists: namely, to celebrate and give thanks for the freedoms Americans enjoy. Some of us salute the Founding Fathers; some of us thank any one of a dizzying array of deities; some of us thank "the troops," past and present; some of us, simply, give thanks to our fellow Americans.
Some celebrations are raucous. Some are subdued. There are picnics, family reunions, concerts, beach parties, movie dates, barbecues, hot dog and pie and watermelon eating contests and, of course, fireworks.
Throughout it all, there's the red, white and blue. Americans flags wave. Red, white and blue balloons swing around in the breeze. Grown men and women don red, white and blue garments in which they they would not be caught dead at any other time of year. Some folks, inspired by a sudden, surging patriotism, or a fine flow of booze, or both, insist on standing up and belting out the national anthem. Or "America the Beautiful." Or, best of all, "This Land Is Your Land."
It's America's birthday, after all, and every birthday deserves a song.
Here, LIFE.com celebrates the Fourth of July with a selection of LIFE magazine covers that proclaim, proudly and without a trace of irony, snark or sarcasm, We love this country, warts and all, from sea to shining sea.
Happy birthday, America.