MOUNT VERNON, Va. - The nation marked its 236th birthday Wednesday with parades, fireworks, an iconic hot dog-eating contest - and a cake-and-ice-cream party featuring new citizens at the home of the nation's first president.
At a special ceremony held at George Washington's lush, sprawling estate overlooking the Potomac River, 103 immigrants took the oath of citizenship. Afterward, about 6,500 people of all ages swarmed the sunny field in front of the mansion for the reading of the Declaration of Independence.
Pedro Lopez, 43, said he proudly put American flags on his lawn for the first time Wednesday morning. A few hours later, the Guatemalan native and his wife, Siomara, became naturalized citizens.
"It feels perfect to be here at Mount Vernon," Siomara says. "No better place for the special ceremony."
Ariana Lara, 32, originally from Mexico, says the long journey to citizenship was worth it, though she could hardly wait for the day to come.
"I couldn't hardly sleep I was so anxious and excited," Lara says. "It's been such a long process. I'm excited to say I'm a citizen."
What's next? Like most Americans, she is "going to do the cookout thing - and my daughter wants a Slurpee," she says with a laugh.
More than 4,000 new citizens are being recognized at special naturalization ceremonies from June 28 to July 10 to commemorate the nation's birthday.
About 750,000 people are naturalized every year; this year could be a bit higher because of the presidential election, says Bill Wright, spokesman for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
"People want to become citizens and vote," Wright says.
Marwan Sadiq, 31, of Baghdad plans to register to vote for this year's elections.
"Before, I could not participate in the democratic process. I couldn't vote, I couldn't be active. I could only watch," Sadiq says. "It is a dream come true. I'm going to be a proud American and never take this honor for granted."
The Mount Vernon after-party offered everything from daytime fireworks to a "Happy Birthday, America" cake.
Families in matching patriotic outfits posed for pictures with young men dressed as Colonial soldiers. Lucky visitors ran into "Gen. and Mrs. Washington," who offered congratulations to new citizens.
Scott and Jennifer Dillon, of Falls Church, Va., brought along their 14-month-old son, Padraig, clad in red, white and blue.
"I feel very patriotic to be coming here, to George Washington's house," Scott says. "This seems like the perfect thing to do on the Fourth."
This is Jennifer's second Fourth of July at Mount Vernon. "Everyone in America should come at least once."
•Joey Chestnut, 28, ate 68 hot dogs in 10 minutes to claim a sixth straight win and the $10,000 top prize at the Fourth of July hot dog-eating contest at New York's Coney Island.
"I feel good, it was a great win," Chestnut says. "I'm looking forward to next year already."
Sonya Thomas, 45, ate her age in hot dogs to win the women's competition and claim the $10,000 prize.
•President Obama marked the holiday at the White House, where he welcomed 25 U.S. servicemembers as newly sworn American citizens.
In Wolfeboro, N.H., presidential nominee Mitt Romney was to march in a parade near his summer home.
•Holiday fireworks were canceled across most of Colorado and other western states where wildfires continue to burn. In one Colorado Springs neighborhood, a homemade sign read, "FAIR WARNING: Anyone using or allowing use of fireworks in this neighborhood will be dealt with harshly! And that doesn't mean just by the police!"
•Colonial Williamsburg, Va., the restored 18th-century Revolutionary capital of Virginia, planned to celebrate with fifes and drums, musket and cannon fire, and a reading of the Declaration of Independence - despite stifling heat.
In Williamsburg, partying like it's 1776, isn't anything new, spokesman Jim Bradley says.
"In a sense, we do that every day, no matter what the weather," he says.
Contributing: The Associated Press
By Natalie DiBlasio and Jessica Tully, USA TODAY