LAUREL — People packed the streets of Laurel on Sunday to celebrate Independence Day with a parade, and street fair organized by the Laurel Chamber of Commerce.
The large-scale festivities were a welcome sight for onlookers compared to last year, when many events were canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The parade included floats from 52 groups including law enforcement agencies, fire departments, schools, businesses and others.
“It was a great parade this year. It was really nice to be out with the family. Everyone is vaccinated and having a good time," said Andrew Racke, who came from Billings to see the parade with his group of family members.
The Fourth of July in Laurel is known for a massive fireworks display that is paid for with donations to Laurel firefighters. The show starts at dusk and will be launched from the Laurel High School football field at dusk.
But before the show, people could walk around nearby Thompson Park and grab a bite to eat at one of several food trucks and purchase art and other goods from vendors.
Some families set up a blanket in the park hours in advance of the fireworks show to make sure they get a good view. The Rojas family is one of them. They have been holding a family reunion on the Fourth of July in Laurel for the last 50 years.
The group is large, with 16 siblings and too many kids and grandkids to count. The siblings all grew up in a Laurel home near the Yellowstone River that has since been torn down.
“I guess we started right before I came home from Vietmnam. I’m not really sure, but we started having it ever since then," said Jose Riojas, the seventh oldest sibling of the family.
The family was obviously having a good time in the park, with the kids running around and shooting water guns. The family said that Mexican food is a big part of their reunion; in particular, tamales. Sandra Mcknight, the eighth oldest sibling said their mother always used to bring tamales to the reunion.
“We make sure that everybody that’s around has fun and is having a good time. That’s really all there is to it," Jose said.
The longstanding family tradition is one that Jose said he hopes will continue long into the future.
“Here, people in Laurel they know that normally the 4th of July is the Riojas reunion. We always have it here. It’s been going on for 50 years or so. Hopefully, it continues to go," Jose said.