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updated: 7/2/2011 4:30 PM

What summer festivals bring to our sense of community

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This is one of our favorite weekends of the year, and it isn't just because of the patriotic spirit that comes alive on Independence Day.

We unabashedly and unashamedly love the community festival, even aside from our appreciation for the patriotic observance that lies at its root.

And clearly, if you like community festivals, this is the weekend that celebrates them.

From Frontier Days in Arlington Heights to Ribfest in Naperville, they're big and bold and colorful. Whether Antioch to the north or Oak Brook farther south, Cary to the west or Wheeling farther east, they're spread throughout the suburbs.

There are four-day festivals and one-day holiday picnics, midways and music and craft shows, fireworks and parades.

It's a celebration of the Fourth of July.

But it's more than that. Much more. It's an endearing rite of summer and an enduring link to the past.

Most importantly, we think, it's a celebration of community, a fellowship of neighborhoods and of neighbors, a focal point that brings us together and, in a way we might not always recognize, helps define who we are.

A community, as we have said in this space repeatedly, is more than buildings or a spot on the map, more than a collection of houses with picket fences on tree-lined streets.

While a municipality exists in geography with Global Positioning System coordinates, a community actually is less a place than it is a sense of place.

The summer festival is one of those things that provides that charming sense of place, providing some of those sensory memories of sight, sound and smell that always bring your mind back to that time and to that place.

And always brings memories of the family, friends and neighbors who shared that experience with you.

Yes, the local festival is, importantly, some of all that. It is fun and relaxing and a taste of summer, to be sure, but above and beyond all that it is an experience of community.

Often, we take it for granted, and we shouldn't.

Even more often, we take for granted the dedication by volunteers working usually throughout the year to organize and stage the event, usually for little recognition or gratitude.

A lot of self-sacrifice goes into these festivals, and we all owe our heartfelt thanks to those who give of their time and devotion. In a very real way, they help to strengthen our community.

So this weekend, while you're out at the festival, take a moment to say thanks to one of the volunteers.

And while you're out there, stop also for an ear of corn. It's one of our festival favorites. With salt and pepper, of course.