This holiday weekend brings some of the biggest public celebrations of the year, and rightly so. If you can't have a civic celebration to celebrate Independence Day, when can you have one?

Friday and Saturday, there will be parades and fireworks to provide some top notch – and free to watch – entertainment.

In our area, Bel Air has the most elaborate celebration, beginning with morning flag-raising and a pancake breakfast and progressing through a range of festivities and concluding with a parade and fireworks. Likewise, Kingsville will have a parade on the Fourth.

Come Saturday, Havre de Grace will have an impressive parade followed by one of the most impressive fireworks displays, thanks to community commitment and geography; the group organizing the celebration always manages to take advantage of fireworks being shot over water, which allows for some larger shells to be used.

Also on Saturday, the Edgewood and Joppatowne communities will be having their parade, an event that has become fairly firmly rooted since it was begun a few years back and it grows a bit each year.

The whole season of celebrating the national holiday was begun in Harford the last weekend in June in Darlington, where a tradition started several years prior to the one in Edgewood and Joppa. It is has evolved into as much a part of the local Independence Day scene as the longer running events in Bel Air, Havre de Grace and Kingsville.

To say, as was done a few paragraphs back, the entertainment is free is far from accurate. Certainly there is no charge for people who want to show up and watch the parades and fireworks. There are, however, substantial costs associated with staging such events. A decent fireworks show costs many thousands of dollars. Parades may not be as expensive, but cash prizes or trophies or both are generally awarded to particularly striking participating units, and these things cost money.

The money doesn't fall out of the sky and the events don't just happen. Each event is made possible by its own dedicated group of volunteers. Like the legendary Minutemen who left their jobs and families to be ready to fight for independence at the drop of a hat, the folks who organize the Independence Day celebrations in and around Harford County take time away from their families and use vacation hours so they can attend boring meetings, attend to tedious details and calm the ruffled feathers of fellow volunteers to organize fundraisers and solicit donations to pay for fireworks and prizes. They also coordinate various aspects of the events.

Their compensation may well be that they aren't able to watch the fireworks or parades because they're attending to some minor crisis during the event.

Such commitment to volunteer work for the benefit of the community as a whole is vital to the fabric of American society. These free labors of love make possible not only the annual Independence Day celebrations, but also any number of other activities ranging from the maintenance of public archives at the Historical Society of Harford County, to the cleaning of trails, to the organization of scouts, to youth athletics to any number of arts, crafts and exercise programs offered through rec councils.

A lot of the benefits of American life can be had for free, or relatively minimal charges in the case of some programs, but the quality offered is generally beyond what most of us could afford if we actually had to pay for it. The fireworks and parades this weekend, no doubt, will prove to be shining examples.

So if you see someone during the parades or fireworks shows who looks focused on dealing with a problem in order to help organize things, it would be nice to step up and say, "Thanks."