Funky Fourth of July traditions: Hot dog gorging, marshmallow fighting, and more

The Fourth of July isn't just parades and fireworks. From a hot dog contest to marshmallow fighting, here's a sample of odd Fourth of July traditions from shore to shore – and beyond.

Tim Hacker/East Valley Tribune/AP/File
People compete to participate in the Fourth of July classic Nathan's Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest in a qualifier at Arizona Mills in Tempe, Ariz., on June 9, 2012.

Cherry pie, a parade, fireworks – and lobster racing?

The basic ingredients of July 4 are familiar to most, but some communities have a few funky traditions of their own come Independence Day. Below are six of the strangest of them, from California to Maine to Denmark:

1. Marshmallow fighting

Ocean Beach, Calif., a seaside neighborhood of San Diego, is in a sticky situation.

Since the 1980s, revelers have held a gigantic marshmallow fight on the town’s beach, and more than 600 pounds of the fluffy stuff have been used in recent years.

“The marshmallow fight is pretty awesome,” said one San Diego resident to KPBS Radio in June. “People go out and thoroughly enjoy themselves.”

Though many cherish the tradition, some residents have become uncomfortable with the “mob-like” atmosphere of the event, and the town council has voted to halt the fight.

The rub is that it lacks the authority to do so, and police have noted that throwing marshmallows does not qualify as assault.

So for the time being the gooey fight is on. Just don’t expect a warm welcome from all the local shopkeepers.

2. Lobster racing

The town of Bar Harbor, Maine, doesn’t shy away from stereotypes come Independence Day.

While some parts of the country host horse or dog races in certain venues, local businesses in this Down East island town put forth lobsters for an annual derby.

Apparently, crustaceans aren’t the most capable sportsmen: Some rush to the finish line, but others amble around confused, or bolt in the wrong direction.

“It’s absurd,” said event director Dan Ashmail to The New York Times in 2009. “And the funny thing is, lobsters are not predictable.”

3. Hot dog binging

Eating a frank is pretty normal on July 4, but eating 69 of them in 10 minutes is not.

That’s the record set by competitive eater Joey Chestnut at the annual Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest, which takes place on New York's Coney Island on Independence Day.

The gastronomic challenge has taken place since 1916, but controversies have scarred the event in recent years.

In 2010, former six-time champion Takeru Kobayashi was arrested after storming the awards ceremony in protest of his exclusion from the event due to a contractual dispute.

“It was extremely unfortunate and a little bizarre,” said Major League Eating Chairman George Shea to the New York Post.

Mr. Kobayashi has since claimed to have broken the 69-dog record before Mr. Chestnut, further fanning the flames of controversy in the world of competitive eating.

4. The Danish connection

The oddest aspect of the July 4 celebration in Rebild is that Rebild is in Denmark, and most of the attendees are, in fact, Danes.

Since 1912, Rebildfesten, a July 4 celebration held by a Danish-American civic organization, has taken place in a hilly park in the small Nordic country. The event has featured speeches by former President Ronald Reagan and Chief Justice Earl Warren among other well-known figures.

“It’s a great, big festival with lots of speechifying and dignitaries and eating,” says Egon Bodtker, president of the Danish American Heritage Society. “It’s a really good time for 24 hours.”

5. Political parading

Most July 4 parades shy away from the political, but that is not the case for the annual July 4 procession in the small, mountain town of Warren, Vt.

Recent floats – which are typically enormous – have featured a gigantic schooner with a shark swallowing former President George W. Bush, one with the former president hugging a gigantic crucifix, and another with men in Colonial-era garb advocating for the secession of Vermont.

The political messaging in the "wild, wacky, and wickedly fun parade, street dance, and family festivities" tends to be liberal and, often, somewhat cryptic. “Start an organic orgasmic farm,” read one float in 2010.

This year’s theme is "Patriots-ACT!," a jab at the controversial, Bush-era antiterrorism law.

It’s difficult to know what to expect, but it’s safe to say hardcore conservatives might want to search for another July 4 parade to attend.

6. Muscle flexing

In Venice, Calif., the fireworks and the parade aren’t the only show in town on July 4.

Every Independence Day since 1959, bronzed, oiled bodybuilders have struck a number of mandatory poses in front of judges in the hopes of being named Mr. or Mrs. Muscle Beach.

At the beginning of the competition, contestants line up on stage with uniformed members of the US Air Force Honor Guard to sing the national anthem.

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