NEW YORK – The U.S. marked the 235th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence with parades, fireworks, barbecues -- plus presidential campaigning, a White House birthday and competitive eating.
The holiday is celebrated as the nation's birthday, but it also was Malia Obama's 13th birthday. The president's eldest daughter had to share her parents with hundreds of others as Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama invited troops and their families to attend a special barbecue and USO concert on the South Lawn.
Obama thanked the service men and women for their sacrifices and service in protecting American freedoms. More than 1,200 were in attendance at the White House barbecue. The president told those at the celebration, "America is proud of all of you."
This is the third year the family has celebrated July Fourth with service members and their families.
Thousands were showing up near the Washington Monument to eagerly await the annual fireworks show on the National Mall, while others were throwing on Hawaiian shirts and shorts to ski the still-snowy slopes at resorts from California to Colorado.
In Boston, the annual Boston Pops concert was a must. In Akron, Ohio, the Rib, White & Blue Food Festival was enticing. And then, there were Nevada's casinos, which promised a pyrotechnics extravaganza that could be a gambler's best bet.
On New York's Coney Island, the annual Nathan's Famous July Fourth hot dog-eating contest brought out the biggest names in competitive eating for a clash that was short in timespan but high in calories.
Joey "Jaws" Chestnut, of San Jose, Calif., wolfed down 62 hot dogs and buns during the 10-minute contest, winning his fifth straight title. Sonya "The Black Widow" Thomas chowed her way to victory in the first-ever women-only contest, eating 40 hot dogs, one shy of her 2009 total.
For 28-year-old New Yorker Matthew Penberg, the holiday is a day off from his job as a bus boy.
"I get to take a break and go to the beach," he said. "And today is the day people, Americans, demanded their rights. I don't think we're there yet. I think we should have a right to a job, but a lot of people have to look for it."
At the mountaintop home to Thomas Jefferson in Charlottesville, Va., officials continued a nearly five-decade-old tradition of swearing in new U.S. citizens. Seventy-seven people took their oaths during a naturalization ceremony at Monticello.
Some of the Republicans hoping to replace Obama in the White House spent part of the day campaigning in states where presidential politics are as much a part of the holiday as fireworks and barbecues
U.S. Rep. Michelle Bachmann, of Minnesota, marched in a parade in Clear Lake, Iowa. In New Hampshire, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman both marched in the Amherst parade. Businessman and GOP hopeful Herman Cain skipped the parades but threw out the first pitch at a minor league baseball game in Manchester, N.H.
"Aside from the politicking and the handshaking and the enthusiasm that our campaign is determined to generate in this state, we're going to reflect on what it means to be an American," Huntsman told reporters. "To share inalienable rights, to share our Constitutional privileges."
In New York, where fireworks are banned on city streets, residents were waiting for a massive display over the Hudson River set to music.
Resident Karina Suriano, 23, wore patriotic colors and bright red feather earrings as she sold beach supplies in Brooklyn. For her, the holiday is a cash cow.
"It means money to me," she said with a grin.
She sold a water gun to the mother of 8-year-old Dejairah Mooreland. What does the holiday signify to her?
"Indepencendy!" the little girl exclaimed, not quite getting the holiday's name right. "Freedom! America!"