Saint Patrick, one of Ireland’s patron saints, was born in the 4th Century. It was not until the 17th Century, though, that the date of his death, March 17, was made an official feast day in the Roman Catholic Church, celebrating the arrival of Christianity in Ireland as well as the heritage of the Irish people.
St_Patricks_Day,_Downpatrick, by Ardfern via wikimedia commons
As I’ve said before, I was reared in the Presbyterian Church, and I don’t remember much talk about saints in general or St. Patrick in particular. But of course I’d heard that you were supposed to wear green on that day, or you could get pinched…and as I got older, I heard about huge celebrations with green beer and parades.
When I started thinking about writing this article, I remembered that St. Patrick’s Day falls within Lent, a period of fasting. That seems contradictory to everything I’ve ever heard about St. Patrick’s Day.
What I discovered is that official feast days are a “break” from tradition, and so celebrants can enjoy alcohol and meat (corned beef and cabbage, anyone?) even if the 17th falls on a Friday when meat is prohibited during Lent. And cities that usually don’t allow alcohol to be sold on Sundays often bend the rules for St. Patrick’s Day.
US_Navy_070318-N-8110K-006_South_Boston_ by Dave Kaylor via wikimedia commons
Through the years, numerous traditions and superstitions have grown up around this holiday, including leprechauns, shamrocks (which represent the holy trinity), and the “wearing of the green,” which makes revelers invisible to leprechauns who create havoc. The pinching reminds those who don’t wear green that the leprechauns can see them and cause mischief.
You’d assume Ireland has grand festivities, but many cities throughout the world hold fabulous events in honor of Ireland’s most famous patron saint. And while it started as a holy day of celebration, St. Patrick’s Day has pretty much evolved into a secular holiday and an excuse for parades with children’s groups, marching bands, clowns, politicians, military personnel, and almost anyone else who wants to participate.
St_Patricks_Day_Parade_Montreal via jompinmontreal via wikimedia commons
While on St. Patrick’s Day, “everyone is Irish,” those of Irish heritage especially enjoy the celebrations surrounding this day. And there are a number of cities in the United States where the celebrations are especially note-worthy.
New York City hosts what is considered the largest St. Pat’s celebration in the US. Since the first parade in 1762, only true marchers are allowed, which means no floats, automobiles or other commercial vehicles are permitted in the parade. NYC’s parade is always held on the 17th unless it falls on a Sunday; then it’s held on the Saturday before.
Chicago also has a long history of St. Patrick’s Day parades, beginning in 1843. The most famous aspect of this parade is Dyeing The River, when participants add environmentally safe dye to the Chicago River, temporarily turning it green. Chicago always holds their parade on the Saturday before St. Pat’s Day.
Kayakers_and_Canoers_on_St._Patricks_day_on_the_Chicago_River,_2014 by Victorgrigas via wikimedia commons
As you might expect, Boston hosts the oldest St. Patrick’s Day parade, dating back to 1737. Their celebration is held on the Sunday before St. Paddy’s Day.
The largest parade in the US, based on the number of spectators relative to a city’s population, or the second or third largest celebration in the nation, depending on who you talk to, is in Savannah, Georgia. First held in 1824, Savannah starts her celebration in February with various events leading up to the special weekend.
The Greening of the Fountain, traditional kick-off to the long weekend celebration, will be held this year on Friday, March 13. This is followed that evening by the Irish Heritage Dance. On March 14, there is the Tara Feis Irish Celebration, a free non-alcoholic family festival. On the morning of the 17th, there’s a Mass of the Feast of Saint Patrick at 8am, and then the “main event,” the St. Patrick’s Day Parade beginning at 10:15.
USMC-090317-M-4498L-005 via wikimedia commons
Hundreds of thousands of visitors flood the streets of Savannah, enjoying the green beer and other libations, making this weekend the largest annual event in Savannah. Hotels sell out months before, parking spots and bleacher seats are also sold in advance. In addition to the parade route, revelers stroll River Street and the City Market where the number of vendors soars during these events.
Other cities with long-held Irish traditional celebrations include Philadelphia, New Orleans, Buffalo, Milwaukee, San Francisco, and Denver among many others.
So whether you’re Irish through heritage or simply through desire, be sure to check out the St. Pat’s Day celebrations near you.
Or plan now to travel to one of the biggies next year!