Hundreds of people from all backgrounds celebrated the Fourth of July at Coney Island, where the world champion hot dog eater defended his crown by wolfing down 19 dogs in 12 minutes.

While many around the nation were enjoying a lazy Independence Day, Hirofumi Nakajima was feeling the pressure Saturday at Nathan's Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest."I would like to be able to enjoy this," the 23-year-old Japanese man said before the contest at a long table outside the famed eatery.

"I feel a little bit of pressure," said the slight, 135-pound Nakajima.

People across the country enjoyed cookouts, citizenship ceremonies and parades to mark America's 222nd birthday, a celebration that even Russia recognized.

Fireworks displays from Florida to New Mexico were canceled or cut back as state officials worried over the fire hazards.

In Brooklyn, the man known as "The Tokyo Terror" held aloft the Mustard Yellow International belt once again, winning Nathan's hot dog eating contest for the third consecutive year.

Charles "Hungry" Hardy, a 387-pound, 29-year-old Brooklyn corrections officer, came in second with 17 1/2 hot dogs.

Before the contest, organizers played the national anthems of the United States, Britain (one Englishman participated) and Japan as a tribute to the nationalities represented at the table.

"It's fun seeing them shove it in their faces. It's kind of disgusting," said Chris Grady, 13.

Last year, Nakajima ate 24 1/2 dogs in 12 minutes, setting a world record.

For most of the rest of the nation, the day brought a welcome opportunity to rest and enjoy the pomp of brass bands, apple pie and all manner of Americana.

Four children tapped the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia as part of a national bell-ringing ceremony, "Let Freedom Ring." The historic bell is too fragile to be rung, so the children tapped it 13 times as a tribute to the orig-i-nal American colonies.

Bells were also rung at the Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor, the National Cathedral in Washington, the Old North Church in Boston, and on 334 commissioned Navy ships.

Former Sen. George Mitchell, architect of the peace process in Northern Ireland, was awarded the Liberty Medal in Philadelphia for his efforts to quell sectarian violence.

In what used to be New York, New Jersey Gov. Christie Whitman raised a state flag over Ellis Island, where so many immigrants first stepped on American soil. The U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled that much of the island lies within New Jersey's borders.

At George Washington's estate in Mount Vernon, Va., festivities honored a little-known footnote in history. Washington was recalled to active duty 200 years ago on July 4, 1798, when the nation's leaders feared an invasion from France during a time of deteriorating relations.