OCONUS? Here's How We Do Independence Day Overseas


Living overseas can make celebrating Independence Day challenging, to say the least. Due to OPSEC, we're limited in how we can celebrate and where. I cannot proudly display the red, white and blue outside my home or put out my beloved wreath handmade for me by a friend at Fort Stewart, Georgia.

But instead of raining on our parade, these challenges celebrating our favorite holiday have paved the way for new family traditions.

We live in Wiesbaden, Germany. Luckily, the garrison here hosts the German-American friendship festival over July 4th. The fireworks rival anything found in the USA and are spectacular. These days, we head to our favorite field overlooking the festival with our lovely German neighbors, bring bratwursts and local cheese and up a picnic to celebrate with our friends. We all view the fireworks and sing both the German and American national anthems.

You probably won't see a big 4th of July display like this one while living OCONUS outside the U.S.

But before we came to Wiesbaden, we lived elsewhere in Germany. Those five years forced us to develop our own family traditions celebrating our nation's birthday. In our house, the movie "Independence Day" plays on the fourth. Although an alien apocalypse is probably not going to happen, we love the movie and it reminds us of why our country is what it is: people from all walks of life will come together to defend it, even against terrifying aliens that want to take the White House.

Barbecuing can be tough here since we lived in stairwell housing for three years. However, we've learned to adapt. We have a fantastic dual wattage electric grill that we've rigged with a small pan of wet mesquite chips to smoke burgers, ribs and chicken. Like clockwork on July 3, we marinate the meats in a traditional German marinade: dark beer, German mustard, lemon and brown sugar. Meshing the German marinade with the mesquite grill smoke makes for a delicious Independence Day treat.

During New Year's in Germany, there are lots of fireworks for sale on the economy. With some pre-planning, we've been able to secure fireworks around the first of January and put them away for the 4th of July. We always purchase at least 100 sparklers to share with neighbors and friends who pop over (and laugh, because Independence Day is on repeat on the TV!).

On one 4th of July we happened to be in Bologna, Italy at Corte d'Aibo winery. We asked the chef if he could prepare something patriotic for us, and he gladly obliged. His response "Americans are very special for Italians. We celebrate your birthday with you! Prego!" When we arrived at dinner, the staff had decked our table out red, white and blue and the desert they presented was decorated as the flag, complete with sparklers. The chef walked us outside and the staff sang (complete with Italian accents, which made it all the more special) the national anthem and lit fireworks. This was, by far, our most memorable 4th of July in Europe. We finished the night sipping wine overlooking the vineyards at the on-site lake chatting with the staff about the future and our dreams.

Although celebrating Independence Day overseas isn't the same as at home -- block parties, parades and all-day barbecuing -- it's unique. We have our own block parties on post, celebrate with friends in new ways, use recipes cultivated by the country in which we live, and staff at the hotel may be willing to do something special. Our 4th of July celebrations have helped me cultivate new relationships overseas. We share our traditions and develop new ones.

Want that marinade recipe? Here it is:

Shelby's German BBQ Marinade Recipe

  • 1 Dark Beer (Dunkelbier)
  • 5 TBSP of German Mustard
  • ½ a Cup of Brown Sugar
  • ½ TSP of pepper
  • Juice of ½ a lemon
  • 4 sprigs of fresh Thyme (optional)

Directions: Mix and Marinade ribs, chicken or pork overnight. Doesn't work for fish, I've tried.

-- Shelby Van Voris is an Army wife stationed in Germany, a mother and public health professional.

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