Saint Patrick was a fifth-century saint and national apostle of Ireland, but he didn’t start out there. Saint Patrick was actually born in Roman Britain, but when he was 16 years old he was kidnapped and taken to Ireland as a slave. Although he eventually escaped, he later returned to Ireland and is credited for bringing Christianity along with him. Saint Patrick died on March 17, 461.
While the shamrock can be traced back to Saint Patrick (he used it to explain the Holy Trinity to followers), the rest of what we associate with St. Patrick’s Day originated much later in the US: the parades, the green beer, and the celebrations. In Ireland, St. Patrick’s Day is a religious holiday, usually observed with a feast. Pubs were traditionally closed on March 17 up until the 1970s. Today, however, St. Patrick’s Day is a major tourism draw for Ireland, where celebrations typically include concerts, parades, food, drinks, and even fireworks.
One of the first St. Patrick’s Day parades took place in 1878 in New York. Today, celebrations large and small take place in cities across the country. So, where are the best locations for St. Patrick’s Day? It depends on how you want your celebration: big, loud, and crowded or smaller and less famous. Here are a few of our top picks:
Savannah, Georgia: St. Patrick’s Day is actually a two-week event in Savannah – they dye the fountain in Forsyth Park green and hold several ceremonies before holding the second-largest parade in the world. Every March, thousands crowd the streets of Savannah for the food, the fun, and the events. With such a huge celebration, you might think Savannah has a large Irish population, right? Well, no – there are fewer than six percent who claim an Irish heritage. But the first-ever St. Patrick’s Day Parade was held here in 1813, and it becomes more grand every year. If you don’t mind a bit of a crowd, the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Savannah is a must-see.
Chicago, Illinois: If you haven’t seen the Chicago River dyed to a sparkling shade of emerald green, put this on your must-do list. The city has done this every year for more than 40 years, and it is incredible. Other cities have tried to recreate this vivid wonder, but so far, only Chicago has been able to pull it off. (Their method is top-secret but chemists have tested the formula and it has been proven safe for the environment.) In addition to the beautiful green river, Chicago holds two parades.
Boston, Massachusetts: Irish band concerts, a parade that attracts over 600,000, the Gaelic Gourmet Gala, bars serving pints of ale – it is no wonder that Boston attracts around 850,000 people during St. Patrick’s Day. Just over 15 percent of Boston’s population is Irish, and the celebration here begins at least a week before St. Patrick’s Day and continues until the beer is gone and the last jig is danced – often days later.
If the three powerhouse cities for St. Patrick’s Day are a little too much for you, there are some great cities that keep their celebrating just a little more low-key, but you are guaranteed to have just as much fun.
Saint Paul, Minnesota: St. Paul’s LuckyPalooza is a fun-filled, giant street party that spreads along two blocks of West 7th. From tent parties to food stands to live music, there’s something for everyone — even if you are into extreme sports and mechanical bull rides! In addition to this event, St. Paul hosts a parade, the Annual Irish Celebration (a terrific event featuring Irish dance, food, and Celtic vendors), and a variety of events around town. Take Irish dance lessons, stop by James J. Hill House for the Irish Heritage Weekend, and visit the Landmark Center for events like Irish dance and entertainment.
Hot Springs, Arkansas: Do you consider yourself a fan of the slightly quirky? If so, then you’ll love the World’s Shortest St. Patrick’s Day Parade, an event started in 2003. Bagpipes, Irish Elvis impersonators (no joke), leprechauns, green Irish wolfhounds, marching bands, and unusual floats define this event. Other festivities include the Blarney Stone Kissing Contest and a post-parade concert. If you have a short attention span, this parade really is short – it takes place on Bridge Street, which is only 98 feet long.
Dublin, Georgia: You may be thinking, “Wait – there’s a Dublin, Georgia?” There is, and they have a month-long St. Patrick’s Day celebration. Events include the Shamrock Invitational Band Festival, the St. Patrick’s Dog Walk and Costume Contest, Baby Erin Go Braugh, the Shamrock Invitational Golf Tournament, the Leprechaun Contest, a Night of Irish Food and Music, the St. Patrick’s Arts and Crafts Festival, a Leprechaun Road Race …. Over 40 events are jam-packed from the middle of February until the end of March, when the Irish Balloon Festival and Carnival is held. Dublin is located about halfway between Macon and Savannah, roughly a little over an hour from each.
Since it is nearly spring, St. Patrick’s Day is our first opportunity to shake off the winter blues and enjoy a day of fresh air and sunshine, parades, great food, and yes – green beer. Even if your city doesn’t have a major celebration, some of the smaller cities across the country put on a good show, too!