After a year hunkered down and without much reason to celebrate, Utahns gathered Monday to cheer, march and take in Independence Day celebrations.

The holiday weekend marked a return to something closer to normal after many of the state's popular parades were canceled last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

At Provo's Freedom Festival, colorful parade floats rolled down the street and Utah Valley University cheerleaders and other performers made their way along the route as onlookers applauded, many from under pop-up tents. Former Gov. Gary Herbert gave a thumbs up and his wife, Jeanette Herbert, a wave from a limousine-style Forde Model T as the parade's grand marshals.

In Salt Lake City, many gathered to watch a troop of men dressed as Revolutionary War soldiers in a ceremonial flag raising held by Utah Society Sons of the American Revolution's at This is the Place Heritage Park.

One re-enactor with the color guard played a drum and another wielded a bayonet in a display that wasn't possible last year due to the pandemic. The chance to perform again this holiday was "wonderful," said Douglas McGregor, vice president for the national group's Utah chapter.

"As soon as we heard the governor's announcements and we understood that things were loosening up, we realized we were going to be able to do what we loved to do," he said with a grin.

Cathy Xu of Sandy and her two daughters, Eva, 8 and Christina, 6, were among several dozen who attended the ceremony.

The young girls love to dig for gemstones and taking wagon rides at the park, their mother said. But Xu, a financial analyst with Goldman Sachs who started a family in the U.S. after emigrating from China, said they had another reason to attend.

"It's a very unique identity for us to teach them — about loving my country, and loving their country — and whenever we have a chance to instill that sense of identity, we bring them here," Xu said.

For Claire and Joe Chelladurai of Salt Lake City, the holiday presented a chance to take part in festivities after being cooped up in the pandemic.

But the couple remains cautious. They've gotten their vaccines, but their infant son Ian — who took in the historic park's celebrations with wide eyes and a pacifier — hasn't had the same opportunity just yet.

"It's trying to manage our wanting to get out while trying to choose activities that are still safe for him," Claire Chelladurai said. "This is a good example of that, because it's mostly outdoors and we're not necessarily passing him around to everybody."

Because of firework restrictions, the only cannon to fire at the park's all-day celebration shot taffy into the air for youngsters to retrieve. Revelers linked arms for do-si-dos in an old-time dance lesson and competed in a watermelon

Jim Davis, a park supervisor and master leather artisan, encouraged several in attendance to remember the sacrifices of the nation's military members over the course of roughly 250 years. But he also encouraged them to reflect on the experiences of enslaved people in the United States and indigenous groups who were here long before white settlers.

"Everybody made sacrifices to be who we are today," he said.

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