By Mark Trainer

Fourth of July Parade

The Fourth of July is, first and foremost, a birthday party. Americans mark  the day in 1776 when 13 English colonies adopted a Declaration of Independence and the United States of America was born.Just as birthday parties come in all shapes and sizes — from the small gathering of friends to the raucous birthday blow-out — Fourth of  July celebrations across America run from very small to very big. If you happen to be visiting, wherever you are, there is likely to be a parade. If you’re in a small town in Iowa, it might feature the town fire truck, neighborhood children riding bicycles decorated with streamers and not much more. If you go to Alameda, California, near San Francisco, you’ll join 20,000 spectators along a three-mile route to cheer for marching bands, horses and enormous parade  floats.

Shown here is Anchorage, a small city of 300,000 in the south of  Alaska, which starts its Fourth of July with a pancake breakfast on the Delaney Park Strip in the middle of town. “There are booths with different activities  and food,” said Paula Conru, a longtime resident. “Everybody hangs out there, and then you watch the parade. There are fire trucks, old fashioned cars and  marching bands.”

But since Anchorage is so far north, the fireworks run on a later schedule. “The fireworks go off at midnight,” Conru said, “and it’s still not really truly  dark outside.”

In New York, fireworks explode over the Hudson River behind the Empire State Building, lit red, white and blue for the Fourth of July. (Kathy Kmonicek/AP Images)

Darkness falls earlier 3,300 miles away in New York. There, the city’s 8 million residents can watch 22 tons of pyrotechnics launched over a  mile-and-a-half stretch of the Hudson River in one of the nation’s biggest fireworks extravaganzas.

But don’t be entirely distracted by the bright colors and patriotic music. Whether it’s in a rural Midwest town square with a pie-baking contest and sparklers, or in Boston Harbor accompanied by an orchestra and cannons, Fourth  of July celebrations are joined by a spirit of pride in folks’ identity as Americans and a sense that communities — small, medium-sized or big — define  them.

This article originally appeared on the Department of State’s IIP Digital website.