Americans take a break to celebrate Independence Day

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Millions of Americans took a welcome Fourth of July break on Thursday, flocking to parades, fireworks shows and barbecues for a brief respite from the daily drumbeat of unsettling news at home and abroad.

The holiday, which marks the July 4 signing of the Declaration of Independence from Britain in 1776, is a day when Americans traditionally celebrate with proud displays of old-fashioned patriotism.

This year, with the country’s drift toward hyper-partisanship and an election battle underway between President Joe Biden and challenger Donald Trump, it was a chance for Americans to come together for a day and forget about their differences.

“It seems to me that the country is much more divided than it ever has been,” said Dwight Kinsey, 69, a New York City resident enjoying the sun on the Coney Island beach on Wednesday.

“Then again, you come out here, it’s a beautiful day, the beach is clean and nice and, you know, life goes on.”

With red, white and blue flags and bunting decorating homes and shops from New England to Hawaii, Independence Day was, as usual, was mostly about family, food and summer fun.

In New York, the annual Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest usually sets the tone for a day of over-indulgence. After dark, it will end with a bang along the Hudson River, where the Macy’s fireworks display will light up the sky against the backdrop of Manhattan’s skyline.

Even though 16-time champ Joey Chestnut was a persona non grata at Nathan’s contest this year, the man known as Jaws still loomed large at the annual feeding frenzy at Coney Island.

Chestnut, who cruised to top honors last July 4 by wolfing down 62 franks and buns in 10 minutes, was disinvited this year because he signed a deal with a rival company that makes veggie dogs. Instead, the champ will live-stream his own July 4 hot dog event from a Texas military base.

In his absence, a field of 15 lesser-knowns will battle for the vacated “Mustard Belt” that goes to the winner.

Later in the day, the Macy’s department store chain will stage its 48th annual Fourth of July fireworks show along the Hudson for the first time in a decade. In recent years, the spectacle was staged along the East River.

Launched from barges moored in the river, some 60,000 shells will travel about 1,000 feet (300 meters) high before exploding into dozens of colors and special effects sure to delight tens of thousands of spectators who will line both sides of the Hudson, which separates Manhattan from New Jersey.

Across the country, other cities are hosting fireworks shows, road races, baseball games and other events that will give people the chance to forget their troubles and relax.

In Southern California, Huntington Beach will hold what it has branded as “the largest Independence Day celebration west of the Mississippi.” The city, which began hosting 4th of July events in 1904, now attracts more than 500,000 people, according to organizers.

The festival begins in the morning with a 5K run, followed by a parade and a nighttime fireworks show over the Pacific Ocean. The fun continues on Friday with a block party and rodeo.

In Alaska, where the sun barely sets in summertime, the holiday got off to an early start with a midnight fireworks show in the port city of Seward. It was the first event in a three-day Fourth of July Festival that also features a grueling 5K road race on Mount Marathon and a boat parade.

(Reporting by Frank McGurty; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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