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July 04. 2013 2:37AM

Traditions run strong as New Hampshire celebrates America's 237th birthday

Festivities in celebration of Independence Day began Wednesday night as Granite Staters kept to traditions as old and honored as the country whose freedom has now endured for 237 years.

Fireworks lit the sky over Manchester, drawing a crowd of thousands to Arms Park and surrounding neighborhoods.

It was a spectacular demonstration of appreciation for basic concepts.

"It's big time, it's appreciation for what we've got," said Mark Orshak of Manchester, clad in a colonial-styled shirt depicting the American flag. "I think it's celebrated more and more since 9/11 and what happened in Boston kind of spurs it now."

Most of those who staked out prime view spots early were family groups; toddlers were caught up in the same excitement that had captured their parents and grandparents in generations before them.

Ashley and Oscar Castro brought their three children, Cameron, 9, Caden, 6 and Colby, 1, each clad in patriotic-colored rugby-style shirts.

"It's the Fourth of July, it's tradition," said Ashley Castro. "I saw them and I just had to have them."

Tradition was also behind the shirt celebrating the American flag worn by Amelia Szelog, 18, of Manchester.

"I wear it to represent American, freedom," she said. "Every year family gets together, barbecues, fireworks, we really have pride on that day."

Spectators who wanted to be close to the fireworks began filling Arms Park well before dusk, and were entertained by the 39th Army Band of the New Hampshire National Guard, itself steeped in more than 130 years of tradition, which performed traditional favorites as well as contemporary and not-so-contemporary songs.

Fireworks displays also kicked off Independence Day celebrations in Alton, Amherst, Gorham, Pelham, Portsmouth, Rochester, Salem and at Weirs Beach.

Another 30 communities planned fireworks on Thursday, although the fireworks in Lebanon have been postponed until a future date.

The fireworks launch and prime viewing areas were damaged by the flooding that caused extensive damage in the town this week.

Officials promised a "very special fireworks show" to celebrate the town's recovery from the flooding.

Other events in Lebanon are still planned, including a road race, food vendors on the Green and musical performances from noon to 9 p.m.

For the crowds gathered Wednesday night, being anywhere else simply wouldn't do; many have spent the Fourth at the fireworks for decades, at Derryfield Park for years before the show was moved to Arms Park in 1985.

"It is a long-standing tradition; my brother and I grew up in a house where the Fourth of July is celebrated," said Cathie Orshak of Manchester. "You just wouldn't be anywhere else but here."

billsmith@unionleader.com


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