America has its fair share of parades, too. There are more than 100 in the United States, with the largest and best known in Chicago, New York City and Boston.
The New York City parade sees upward of nearly 3 million attendants. Places like Boston, Chicago and Philadelphia usually see between 10,000 and 20,000 participants. But to Midwesterners, Chicago is most famous. Everyone knows about dyeing the Chicago River green. Today, 40 pounds of dye are used to turn the water green just for a few hours.
Junior Mardi Sramek lives near downtown Chicago and described the parade as a giant party. In high school, she remembers teens skipping out to attend and some partygoers begin drinking as early as 6 a.m. She said the city streets eventually become packed full of drunken revelers.
“The trains are so blocked because of everyone going into the city,” she said. “It makes it hard for people who actually work downtown.”
She said Michigan Avenue sees a wide range of people. There are families with children and intoxicated young adults and older people with their groups of friends. It is clear that no matter your age, celebrating St. Patrick’s Day never gets old.
In addition to attending parades and drinking, there are a number of other smaller traditions that the Irish take part in on St. Patrick’s Day.
Henry recalls eating traditional corned beef and cabbage as a child. His family also used to wrap coins in gold foil and put them in their potatoes for good luck. He said that traditions like that are similar to celebrating Easter in America by finding plastic eggs filled with candy and prizes.
“We would also bake a ring into a fruitcake and whoever got the slice with the ring was lucky,” Henry said.
Gahan remembers picking shamrocks for family members to wear on their lapels. He said people often mistake shamrocks for four-leaf clovers. St. Patrick used the shamrock, a three-leaved clover, to represent the Trinity, or the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, while he spread Christianity throughout Ireland.
Some of the symbols we use to refer to St. Patrick’s Day have a fascinating history. The shamrock became the traditional symbol of Ireland, but one of the most popular and familiar figures of St. Patrick’s Day is the leprechaun.
Everyone is familiar with the leprechaun on the Lucky Charms cereal box, and some of us even buy a box just to pick out the colorful marshmallows. But the legend of leprechauns doesn’t have anything to do with magically delicious marshmellows. Leprechauns are actually fairies, since before St. Patrick brought Christianity to Ireland, natives believed gods took the form of fairies.
While the popular image of them comes with a rainbow and a pot of gold, they are also known to be con artists. Legend has it that if people can capture one, they can barter their freedom for treasure. Belief in leprechauns was once widespread throughout the country.
But behind all of the symbols, celebrations and history, one thing remains: the worldwide celebration of the Emerald Isle continues to fascinate and enchant us today.
“It’s nice to celebrate a day for your country,” Henry said.