NEW YORK The United States celebrated the July Fourth holiday on Monday with parades, baking contests and picnics draped in red, white and an extra layer of blue, as police ramped up patrols amid concerns about terrorism and gun violence.

Millions of Americans marked independence from Britain with celebrations as boisterous as a music-packed party by country music legend Willie Nelson for 10,000 people at a race track in Austin, Texas and as staid as colonial-era costumed actors reading the Declaration of Independence at the National Archives in Washington.

“It’s a good day for reflecting on the positive things about America – the sense of freedom that you can go after and achieve whatever you want,” said Helen Donaldson, 48, the mother of a multi-ethnic family of four adopted teens living in Maplewood, New Jersey.

Donaldson, a white Australian immigrant, cheered with her two New Jersey-born African American daughters, both 12 and dressed in white, white and blue, as a recording of the Star Spangled Banner played to kick off a children’s relay race.

History may be in the making in the traditional hotdog-eating contest at New York’s Coney Island.

With the holiday taking place days after attacks in Baghdad, Dhaka and Istanbul, the New York Police Department deployed eight new “Vapor wake” dogs, trained to sniff out explosives on a moving target in a crowd.

Some of America’s newest citizens were being sworn in at a special Independence Day ceremony in New Orleans for 55 people from countries including Haiti, Nepal and Venezuela.

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