|Fireworks explode over the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial celebrating the Independence Day of the United States, in Washington D.C., on July 4, 2014. The United States celebrated its 238th Independence Day on Friday. (Xinhua/Yin Bogu)|
WASHINGTON, July 4 -- People across the United States celebrated the 238th anniversary of their country's independence with fireworks, parades and picnics.
The Macy's Fourth of July fireworks show in New York City is the nation's largest. During the 25-minute display, more than 1,600 shells were launched per minute over the East River. Meanwhile, other major fireworks shows were held in Chicago on Lake Michigan and in San Francisco over the bay.
The first hurricane of the season, Arthur, forced many East Coast cities to switch the dates of their Fourth of July celebrations. Boston officials moved the annual Boston Pops July 4 concert and fireworks from Friday to Thursday, and had to cut short the concert so the fireworks could begin. Shortly after the dazzling display thundered to a close, a drenching rain began falling. Several cities in Maine, New Hampshire and New Jersey postponed their fireworks shows to either Saturday or Sunday.
In Washington meanwhile, thousands celebrated the event under clear skies, despite initial fears rain could ruin the fun. Visitors to the National Mall could see the White House and the Washington Monument and stroll through the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, which featured Chinese and Kenyan food, music and cultural demonstrations.
In addition, composer John Williams staged a new arrangement of "The Star-Spangled Banner" featuring choirs, trumpets, an orchestra and cannons on the National Mall, as 2014 marks the 200th anniversary of the national anthem.
Festivities in Washington also included re-enactors portraying founding fathers such as Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and John Adams.
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, addressing the annual "Celebration of Freedom" ceremony at Independence Hall, Philadelphia, said the lessons of the civil rights movement show that the struggle for freedom that began in Philadelphia more than two centuries ago is not over.
Friday's ceremony also recognizes the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the 60th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court decision, he said in his keynote address, noting the importance of the Declaration of Independence in laying out the founding principles of the nation, eventually leading to desegregation in the military, schools, and employment.
At the White House on Friday, U.S. President Barack Obama pressed again for immigration reform, as he welcomed 25 new U.S. citizens in a special Independence Day naturalization ceremony.
Obama called for efforts to push forward the reform so that "hardworking" immigrants who come to the United States can "join the American family."
The president said that the new citizens -- all U.S. service members or military spouses -- are a reminder that America "is and always has been a nation of immigrants."
Calling the current immigration system "broken," he pledged to do everything he can to make the system smarter and more efficient.
"We shouldn't be making it harder for the best and brightest to come here and create jobs here and grow our economy here. We should be making it easier," he said.
The immigration issue is back in the spotlight amid an influx of tens of thousands of unaccompanied children from Central America who have crossed into the United States illegally.
U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel recognized the holiday by calling U.S. service members in Afghanistan to wish them a happy Independence Day.
The Pentagon said in a statement that Hagel thanked them for what they do to defend the U.S. people and their "tireless" efforts to support Afghan citizens during the current transition period.