NEW YORK (AP) — From flashy firework displays for massive crowds to small-town parades, Americans celebrated the United States’ 241st birthday in both joyous and serious ways.
Tuesday’s events even went international, as U.S. senators traveled to Afghanistan and spent the holiday with the troops and an Independence Day exhibition took Major League Baseball to London.
Along with the fireworks, July Fourth also comes with some light-hearted traditions, like competitive eating contests. But the holiday is taking place in a nation that has grappled with divides this past year. And in an era of concerns about security, the Independence Day celebrations are mixed with precautions.
Some highlights from around the world:
SPARKLE AND FLASH
Thousands upon thousands of fireworks turned the night sky over New York City into a festival of color during the annual Macy’s fireworks show. Crowds lined up along the East River to watch.
The 60,000 shells launched from five barges went off at an average of 2,400 shells per minute and exploded into happy faces and flowers in colors including purple, orange and yellow. The crowd cheered and applauded wildly, with lots of oohs and cries of “Look at that!”
Melissa Beasley, who recently moved to New York from Alabama, said she hoped the fireworks show was an inspiration.
“For all of the people here, I hope it brings them together and makes them realize that there is a wonderful fact about the United States in which all these tribes, all these different types of people can come together and celebrate the fact that we live here relatively peacefully with each other,” she said.
Security to get into the area was tight. Police set up checkpoints to examine bags, and onlookers had to leave chairs and blankets behind in favor of standing. Some officers were heavily armed, with bulletproof vests and helmets.
New York resident G. Brian Hutchinson was happy to see them, thanking each one as he walked by.
“These guys are the best,” he said. “It’s a hard job they got, keeping us safe in New York City at an event like this.”
Before the fireworks went off, artists including Jennifer Lopez, Sheryl Crow, and Brad Paisley performed.
A FIRST FOR THE PRESIDENT
For President Donald Trump’s first Independence Day in office, he and first lady Melania Trump hosted a picnic for military families at the White House.
Rain threatened the event on the South Lawn but cleared up as Trump stepped out to address the crowd from a balcony. The Republican president pledged his “unwavering support” and told the crowd that he will “always have your back.”
Before the picnic, Trump kicked off his holiday at his golf club in Virginia. He arrived at the club in Sterling just before 10 a.m. and spent nearly four hours there before returning to the White House. Aides did not answer questions about whether he was golfing.
Later, the festive, star-spangled crowd that gathered for the July Fourth concert and fireworks on the National Mall couldn’t avoid being reminded of the ugly reality of life in Washington in 2017.
Concertgoers were greeted by heavy security, including police officers with semi-automatic rifles around their necks and roads blocked with concrete barriers, military vehicles and construction equipment.
And host John Stamos took time during the “Capitol Fourth” concert on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol to honor one police officer in particular: special agent David Bailey, of the U.S. Capitol Police, who was wounded while protecting members of Congress during a shooting at a baseball practice last month.
The concert featured performances by the Beach Boys, the Four Tops and the Blues Brothers.
CALIFORNIA CELEBRATES WITH CLASSIC CARS
Decked out in red, white and blue, Californians waved flags and sang patriotic songs at Independence Day parades across the state.
Hundreds of people lined the streets under bright sunshine Tuesday for seaside Santa Monica’s celebration, which featured bands and classic cars.
California’s love affair with the automobile was also front and center at South Pasadena’s parade, which had the theme “Freedom on the Road. Celebrating Route 66.”
When the sun sets, the parties will continue with fireworks displays. Among the largest in the Los Angeles area will be the annual fanfare at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena.
To the north, officials are hoping clouds will clear in time for the big display over San Francisco Bay.
OBSERVING JULY FOURTH OVERSEAS
A bit of American sports culture was displayed in London’s Hyde Park, where several former major leaguers competed in a home run derby. Major League Baseball aims to build interest in the sport in Britain and Europe, despite the region’s longstanding preference for soccer.
The managing director of Major League Baseball for Europe, Charlie Hill, said the Independence Day exhibition is an attempt to “lay down roots” in Britain. He says it’s possible that some official games will be played in London during the 2019 season.
Meanwhile, Denmark hosted the Rebild Festival, considered one of the largest Fourth of July celebrations outside the United States. Danish Foreign Minister Anders Samuelsen — who recently tweeted that Trump “should tighten up, focus on the struggle for freedom and show respect for the presidency” in response to Trump’s own Twitter habit — told festival-goers that “when you are friends, you have the right to criticize.”
SENATORS CELEBRATE FOURTH WITH TROOPS ABROAD
Rhode Island U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse says it was emotional and inspiring to spend July Fourth with troops in Afghanistan.
Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican, led a group of senators to Pakistan and Afghanistan for the holiday weekend. They visited a military base in South Waziristan and met with Pakistani leaders in Islamabad before traveling to Kabul, Afghanistan.
Whitehouse, a Rhode Island Democrat, said in a phone interview from Bagram airfield on Tuesday it was emotional because service members in Afghanistan are constantly in harm’s way and constantly making the nation proud.
Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren, South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham and Georgia Republican Sen. David Perdue are on the trip. They met with Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani.
GULP! HOW MANY HOT DOGS CAN A PERSON EAT?
Record-setting hot dog eater Joey “Jaws” Chestnut held onto his title at the hot dog eating contest at Nathan’s Famous in New York, breaking the record he set last year. The San Jose, California, man chowed down 72 hot dogs in 10 minutes, besting last year’s mark of 70.
Meanwhile, Miki Sudo notched a fourth straight win in the women’s division on the Coney Island boardwalk. The Las Vegas woman ate 41 hot dogs and buns in 10 minutes.