US celebrates July Fourth with parades, fireworks, hot dogs

People enjoy the fireworks display while celebrating the Fourth of July, at Navy Pier in Chicago, Tuesday, July 4, 2017. (Chris Sweda//Chicago Tribune via AP)

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.