How We Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in America
Many of us are familiar with Shamrock Shakes, downtown parades and the art of dying everything from major rivers to light beer green on St. Patrick’s Day. But how did this holiday originate, and why do we celebrate it in America? After all, most Irish-Americans won’t hesitate to tell you this holiday is about much more than consuming pints of Guinness and feasting on delicious corned beef and cabbage.
Believe it or not, St. Patrick’s Day isn’t a legal holiday in the US. Regardless of that fact, it is observed and recognized throughout the country by millions of people who want to celebrate their Irish heritage and revel in the Celtic glory of Irish culture for one fine day.
Like any other popular holiday, St. Patrick’s Day has been commercialized to some extent over the years. But, if we look back at the historical significance of this Irish festivity, we realize that America has been celebrating this holiday ‘like a boss’ since the mid to late 1700s.
The First-Ever St. Patrick’s Day Parade
Saint Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, was credited for bringing Christianity back to his Celtic homeland in the 4th century. His death is believed to have occurred on March 17th, 461, and that day has been celebrated in his honor as a Roman Catholic feast day in Ireland since about the 9th or 10th century.
Fast forward to March 17th, 1762. That’s when the very first parade was held to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day the world over. And it didn’t occur in Ireland. It happened in one of the biggest cities in the country, America’s own New York City.
Irish patriotism in America bloomed over the next few decades, and by 1848, New York Irish Aid Societies who held their own yearly parades decided to come together to produce the official New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
America Goes Green
By the mid to late 1900s, St. Patrick’s Day celebrations were sweeping the nation in popularity. In 1962, officials released 100 pounds of green vegetable dye into the Chicago River, which kept the river green for more than a week. The act has since evolved into a unique local tradition that occurs yearly in Chicago to honor the March 17th holiday.
Savannah, Georgia, a city that boasts the oldest official St. Patrick’s Day parade in the nation (1813), claims that dyeing the river green was their idea. In 1961, a local restaurant manager convinced officials to dye the main river in Savannah green.
It didn’t work out well, though, and Savannah never tried to dye their river green again.
Interestingly enough, the local restaurant manager claimed that it was he who suggested it to Chicago’s Mayor Richard J. Daley, but others have disputed the claim since.