Thousands of families come from around New England and across the nation each year to the Charles River Esplanade for the Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular, but it would be difficult to find any who value the tradition more than the Schinkers of Stow, Ohio.
Megan Schinker, who turns 17 next week, has been coming for the last 15 years, she said, and her parents and older sister have been coming since 2000. Each year, they arrive at the Esplanade on July 3 and get in line early so they can be among the first to grab prized spots right in front of the Hatch Shell.
“This is just where to be, for me. This is tradition,” Megan Schinker said as she waited in line Wednesday morning. “There was one year that we didn’t come up here because we were coming later in the year, and I sat in my room and I cried because this is my home for the Fourth.”
Sister Emily Schinker, 19, called the annual family trip “a wonderful tradition.”
“I had one year that I stayed behind and chose to stay in air conditioning all day and just watch it on TV, and I was bored, quite honestly,” she said. “It wasn’t nearly as fun and I realized how much I miss it, and I haven’t missed a year since.”
Over the years, the family has bonded with others who arrive early and spend nearly a full day and night in line waiting for admittance to the park.
“We come with a really good group of people,” Emily said. “We call them our Fourth of July family. We only see them for the Fourth, so it’s always great to catch up and just to be here, to be where everything is happening.”
Mother Debbie Schinker, 48, said for their family, the excitement is not about the fireworks display but about the Pops’ performance.
“We don’t really understand those people that come just for the fireworks because we come for the music,” she said.
Their tradition of lining up early for the celebration began on a family visit to see her sister, who lives in the Boston area.
“I just wanted to come see the concert I’d grown up watching on TV, and if I was going to come, I wanted to be in the front,” Debbie said.
Megan, who wasn’t born yet on that long-ago Fourth, said that after her mother expressed interest in attending the celebration, her aunt told her they would wind up sitting in the back of the crowd, far from the musicians.
“Mom said, ‘How do we get to the front?’ and she said, ‘Well, you have to get there super early.’ Ever since then, we’ve been coming,” the teen said.
Megan said the family is patriotic and has “a great love of the history of this nation, so being able every year to celebrate our independence in Boston, which is one of the major cities where the Revolutionary War started, is just so special.”
She said it’s deeply meaningful to “know that I’m . . . walking the streets where the Founding Fathers would have walked while fighting for our freedom.”
The teens are members of Children of the American Revolution, and Debbie is a member of Daughters of the American Revolution, they said. Both organizations are made up of Americans who can trace their ancestry back to patriots who fought in the Revolutionary War.
The Schinkers have two: Michael Oberlin and Daniel Shuster.
During last year’s visit to Boston, Megan said, the family walked the Freedom Trail, as they have in some years past, and she had a chance to appreciate how her understanding of the nation’s complex and sometimes contradictory history deepens as she matures.
“You learn more as you get older, and you can even go in depth more and learn some [of] the not so fanciful sides, which is really interesting for me,” she said.
The family has also observed the deep divisions that exist today in Washington, D.C., and in communities across the country as the nation appears to be increasingly fractured, Debbie said.
“This last couple of years has been hard, with people in charge seeming like we’re dismantling our democracy from the inside out, but we come here and we remember that we’re all Americans,” she said. “We have a common ancestry, and we’ve faced trials such as this before, and so did our ancestors, and persevered, and the democracy will come through this, as well.”
She said this celebration of the nation’s independence is a time for Americans to come together and get past the issues that divide them.
“Lady Liberty’s light cannot be hid under a bushel,” she added. “The spirit of America is strong in Boston, but it burns in all of us, and that’s why we’re here. And on this day, we are Americans. We are not Democrats and Republicans.
“It doesn’t matter what religion we are. It doesn’t matter what our immigrant status was. Because at some point, most of us were immigrants, or descended from immigrants.”