Millions of Americans took a welcome break on Thursday for the Fourth of July, flocking to parades, fireworks shows, and barbecues, momentarily escaping the daily drumbeat of

unsettling news at home and abroad.

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

This year, amidst the country's drift toward hyper-partisanship and an ongoing election battle between President Joe Biden and challenger Donald Trump, the day provided a chance for Americans to come together and set aside 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 Coney Island beach. "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 mostly about family, food, and summer fun. In New York, the annual Nathan's Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest set the tone for a day of over-indulgence. The festivities ended with a bang along the Hudson River, where the Macy's fireworks display lit up the sky against the backdrop of Manhattan's skyline.

Despite 16-time champion Joey Chestnut being a persona non grata at Nathan's contest this year due to a deal with a rival company making veggie dogs, the event proceeded with a field of 15 lesser-known competitors vying for the "Mustard Belt."

Patrick Bertoletti, a 39-year-old from Chicago, emerged victorious on the men's side by consuming 58 hot dogs and buns in 10 minutes, though short of Chestnut's record of 76 set in 2021. On the women's side, Miki Sudo successfully defended her title by consuming a record-breaking 51 hot dogs and buns, winning her 10th Mustard Belt.

Later in the day, Macy's department store staged its 48th annual Fourth of July fireworks show along the Hudson River for the first time in a decade. Launched from barges moored in the river, some 60,000 shells exploded into dozens of colors and special effects, delighting tens of thousands of spectators lining both sides of the Hudson.

Across the country, other cities hosted fireworks shows, road races, baseball games, and other events, providing people with the opportunity to forget their troubles and relax. In Southern California, Huntington Beach held "the largest Independence Day celebration west of the Mississippi," attracting over 500,000 people with a 5K run, a parade, and a nighttime fireworks show over the Pacific Ocean.

In Alaska, where the sun barely sets in summertime, the holiday began with a midnight fireworks show in the port city of Seward, kicking off a three-day Fourth of July Festival featuring a grueling 5K road race on Mount Marathon and a boat parade. Photo by Christine Cavalier, Wikimedia commons.