Vanessa Preston has seen Independence Day celebrations in Lexington, where she grew up, and in Australia, where she moved in 2012 to work as a counselor in a government-run hospital.
"Americans do it bigger. We're more patriotic, I think," said Preston, who attended Lexington's Fourth of July festival Saturday. "It's like this real deep pride in our independence."
Plus there are horse rides. Preston's daughter Brianna, 13, beamed as she rode a white horse being led in a short circuit on North Limestone Street — her second ride ever.
The mother and daughter were among thousands of people who came downtown for the annual Fourth of July festival and parade.
Peggy Keller, a psychology professor at the University of Kentucky, said the festival is one of the events, along with others such as Thursday Night Live, movies in Triangle Park and the staging of Michael Jackson's Thriller at Halloween, that add to the quality of life and community in Lexington.
"All that stuff is really important to build a sense of community," Keller said. "That's important for the city."
Keller, who was with her 65-pound goldendoodle dogs Wendy and Simon, said Lexington seems "almost utopian" compared to some other places she's lived.
Casey Keller, who attended the festival with her husband, Craig, and their 2-year-old son Davis, said she was glad the event is family-friendly, with face-painting, pony rides and games for kids.
The Kellers lived in Nashville before moving to Lexington. The Music City doesn't have a comparable event to celebrate the holiday, Casey Keller said.
"I love coming to downtown Lexington for the Fourth of July," she said.
The annual festival and parade combine patriotism, community spirit and fun with commerce, politics and social advocacy, providing a platform and audience for a range of causes.
On Saturday, there were booths or parade entries for churches; groups advocating for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people; and Republicans, Democrats and political candidates.
The exercise of rights such as freedom of speech and assembly was a great example of what the holiday is about, said Zoey Peach, chair of the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network.
"It's wonderful to see the microcosm of all these advocacy groups," Peach said.
Bill Mooney, a retired horse-racing writer who lives in Lexington, said the festival shows the diversity of the country and of Lexington.
"That's a celebration of the American way," he said.
Mooney's first stop was at a food vendor on Short Street to get a steak sandwich — an annual tradition for him.
He would survive without it, he said, "but I'd feel like I missed out on something."
Workers at the booth for the Kentucky Workers League, which was between a jewelry stand and a booth for a chiropractic practice, were giving free temporary mustache tattoos as they spread the word about socialism.
Jordan Mazurek, a student at Eastern Kentucky University who was carrying a sign for the socialists, said he thinks people are ready for political change.
"And free mustache tattoos," he added. "You gotta be able to laugh."
Lexington Fairness was selling T-shirts and had pictures of same-sex couples in wedding attire painted on wooden backgrounds, with the faces cut out for people to stick their faces in and take photos.
"I think a lot of people were able to celebrate our independence a little bit" because of the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage, said Glenn Means, who was working the booth.
Casa de la Cultura Hispana de Lexington — or House of the Hispanic Culture of Lexington — had a float in the parade. The group hopes to integrate Latino culture with Kentucky's heritage, according to its website.
Monica Calleja, the director, said she'd had her colorfully costumed marchers practicing for the parade.
"I told them, 'Nobody's getting tired,'" she said.
Some groups had no cause other than to participate and have a good time.
There were zombies in the parade, as well as marching bands, classic cars, historic military vehicles and Boy Scouts.
The Beaus and Belles Hand Bell Choir rang patriotic songs along the parade route. More than 30 kids from Broadway Christian Church walked and sang songs to "spread a little joy," as one participant said.
The Roller Girls of Central Kentucky skated, and members of the Lexington Barons revved the engines on their motorcycles. William "Big Daddy" Evans, the president of the black motorcycle club, said members see riding in the parade as a community service and have taken part every year for decades.
"We like doing it," Evans said.
Jason Carroll of Lexington, who won a water bottle by doing 18 push-ups at a U.S. Marine Corps display, said his family is usually out of town for the holiday, so it was his first time at the festival.
"It's excellent," he said.