By Jennifer Ceaser
If you’re like most Americans, your July 4th is celebrated with a cookout, maybe a parade or patriotic music concert, and of course, plenty of fireworks.
But at Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s estate in Charlottesville, Virginia, the holiday takes on a far deeper meaning: It’s here that the oldest U.S. naturalization ceremony (outside a courtroom) is held each Independence Day.
Now in its 55th year, the event welcomes more than 70 newly minted American citizens from 40-plus countries who will take the oath of allegiance—and share their stories—during the inspirational ceremony.
This year’s keynote speaker is former U.S. ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, Rabbi David N. Saperstein; past speakers have included presidents Gerald Ford and George W. Bush, astronomer Carl Sagan, author Frank McCourt, actress Tracey Ullman and musician (and former Charlottesville resident) Dave Matthews.
There’s perhaps no place more fitting for such a ceremony than Monticello, which was designed and built by the author of the Declaration of Independence and the Virginia Statute for Establishing Religious Freedom, Thomas Jefferson. The statute, which was enacted into law in 1786, was a precursor to the First Amendment to the Constitution, guaranteeing, among other things, freedom of religion to all Americans.
Following the 9 a.m. naturalization ceremony are free tours of Monticello, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, live music from the Lewis and Clark Fife and Drum Corp and a performance from the Charlottesville Opera.
If you’ve already made Fourth of July plans, Monticello hosts many special events throughout the year. The Heritage Harvest Festival (Sept. 9) is a daylong, family-friendly celebration that showcases local food, heirloom fruits and veggies, and native plants—Jefferson was a big proponent of sustainable agriculture; it also features gardening workshops, a plant and seed sale and book signings.
Also popular are the Holiday Wreath Workshops (Nov. 24-27, 30; Dec. 1-4), with many of the natural materials collected from the plantation’s 2,500 acres of forest and gardens. Throughout December, you can sign up for a rare after-dark peek inside Monticello during the Holiday Evening Tours.
Admission to the Independence Day Celebration and Naturalization Ceremony is free; house tours are on a first-come, first-served basis. Click here for more information about events at Monticello.