It was a star-spangled Independence Day at parades, beaches and civic gatherings across Long Island. NewsdayTV's Virginia Huie reports.  Credit: Newsday/Thomas J. Lambui; Howard Schnapp; Kendall Rodriguez

This story was reported by Lisa Colangelo, David Olson, Grant Parpan and Jean-Paul Salamanca. It was written by Olson.

Long Island celebrated the nation’s 248th birthday Thursday with beachgoing, barbecues, picnics, parades and patriotic music.

As Stephen Giametta, 54, of Centereach, arrived at Smith Point County Park beach in Shirley Thursday morning, he noted the widespread national malaise — polls show sharp political polarization and discontent — but said Americans should be grateful for the freedom that many elsewhere don’t enjoy.

"There's a lot of controversies these days in this country,” Giametta said. “People are upset about this and that. I think if they went to other countries, they would see just how much freedom they have here; how much is accessible; the quality of life here."

The ocean, he said, “is kind of symbolic of the country. It's wide open. You can do what you want to do."

Stephen Giametta, of Centereach, spent the holiday at Smith Point...

Stephen Giametta, of Centereach, spent the holiday at Smith Point Beach in Shirley. Credit: Tom Lambui

On the North Fork, in the bucolic hamlet of New Suffolk, hundreds, many clad in red, white and blue, lined New Suffolk Road to watch a small-town parade featuring fire trucks, classic cars, tractors and homemade floats.

“It’s just so homey,” said Kathy Johannessen, of Huntington, who attends the event every year to watch her husband march. “You don’t see a parade like this anymore. You just don’t.”

The 32-year-old parade, hosted by the local civic association, is the centerpiece of Independence Day festivities in the hamlet of 400 year-round residents.

“This is great, so beautiful, like such a fun little parade and so many amazing cars and people coming out,” said Bennett Smith, of Youngwood, Pennsylvania.

John Rebecchi, of Blue Point, watched proudly as his brother-in-law carried the flag at the front of the parade. He said the event reminds him of what makes this country so special.

“I’m proud to be an American because we have more freedoms than anywhere else in the world,” Rebecchi said.

Michael Carmody, 85, of Mastic Beach, knows what it's like to live under a dictatorship. He left Argentina in 1969, when the country was ruled by a military junta. He spent this Fourth of July like he passes most days, visiting the ocean beach at Smith Point just a mile from his house. His legs don't allow him to swim these days, but on a holiday that has become important to him in the country he now calls home, Smith Point is a place for him to reflect.

"The security that we have, at least until now, we have peace and not revolution," said Carmody, who spent the holiday with his wife and daughter. "It's a tranquility. This is a great country."

Yet Americans are increasingly pessimistic. A Pew Research Center poll last year found that 63% of American adults expressed “not too much” or no confidence in the future of the U.S. political system, and 65% often or always felt “exhausted” when they thought about politics, compared with 10% who felt hopeful.

At a spirited celebration in Sea Cliff that featured music, historic readings and a singalong, Elena Lechinsky, 61, of Glen Head, lamented the current divisiveness.

“I wish it would be different,” she said. “But events like this remind us of the history of our country and our values as all Americans. We need more of those reminders to keep us united and keep us optimistic about our future.”

More than 100 people gathered on the village green as residents, playing family members of several Declaration of Independence signers, read the signers' biographies and what they sacrificed to support the fledgling nation.

Dressed in a cape and crown, Joseph Stroppel regaled the crowd with “You’ll Be Back” from the Broadway hit “Hamilton” — King George III’s melodic warning to the defiant American colonists. Many of the crowd members sang along. Local lawyer John Canning read the Declaration of Independence in its entirety, drawing cheers from the audience.

“We don't have enough civic events in our country today,” said Carol Vogt, of the Sea Cliff Civic Association, co-chair of the event, as she stood with a fellow co-chair, Ann DiPietro. “You need them to create a sense of community, regardless of varying political views.”

At Eisenhower Park in East Meadow, Sean Singh, 38 of Levittown, used a trip to play mini golf with his wife, Nidia, and 7-year-old son, Aidin — who was dressed in red, white and blue — to teach the boy about the park's namesake.

Aidin "saw the statue of [former President Dwight D.] Eisenhower and asked who it was,” Sean Singh said. “I explained he is the former president, and about World War II ... and that we should be grateful that we live here and all the freedoms that we have.”

Francisco Roca, of Valley Stream, sets up a tent for...

Francisco Roca, of Valley Stream, sets up a tent for a Fourth of July family gathering at Eisenhower Park in East Meadow. Credit: Newsday/Kendall Rodriguez

Francisco Roca, 52, of Valley Stream, found a perfect shaded spot in the park for his gathering of friends and family. He had a tent, hammock, grill and other necessities for a day of food and fun.

“I’m proud to be an American, proud to have served,” said Roca, a Gulf War veteran who served in the Navy from 1988 to 1992. “But everything has changed. It’s a scary time to be living in. Without getting overly political, it seems some of the founding principles the country was based on shifted recently.”

Steve Narine, of East Meadow, enjoyed the holiday at Eisenhower...

Steve Narine, of East Meadow, enjoyed the holiday at Eisenhower Park in East Meadow. Credit: Newsday/Kendall Rodriguez

Near a long table piled with fruit, desserts and other food, Steve Narine, of East Meadow, tried to light one of the park’s barbecues with a friend.

“We have a huge extended family, people from Florida, from Staten Island from all over, all come out to hang out on the Fourth of July and live the American dream, celebrate independence,” said Narine, 44, a salesman and volunteer firefighter in East Meadow.

Narine said he doesn’t focus on the country's divisions.

“I don’t let that stuff bother me,” he said. "I live one day at a time. I make sure my family is good, everyone around me is good, and that is all that matters to me.”

Many Long Islanders flocked to beaches Thursday under partly sunny skies and temperatures in the upper 70s and lower 80s for much of the Island -- although a coastal hazard message from the National Weather Service warned of "life threatening rip currents" during the afternoon and evening at ocean beaches in Nassau County..

At Jones Beach, thousands arrived continuously throughout the day, some beachgoers wearing festive red, white and blue outfits or carrying American flags.

Valerie Alter, 62, of Manhattan, and her husband, Mark DeMilt, 60, were spending their first Fourth of July at Jones Beach. Holding a pair of U.S. flags in her hand, Alter said the holiday had a special meaning to her because her late father was born on July 4 and was a Korean War veteran.

Alter said she was grateful to live in the United States.

“Especially when you consider what’s going on in other parts of the world, I would never leave here,” Alter said.

Alex Nieves, Robert Sanchez and Melissa Rivera, all 38 and from Brooklyn, have been coming to Jones Beach for several years to enjoy the evening fireworks show in what has become an annual tradition.

Nieves said he appreciated the sacrifices made in the name of freedom.

"A lot of people died for this freedom,” Nieves said.

With Virginia Huie and Nicholas Spangler

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