While most of the country is still stuck in Old Man Winter’s grasp (and thinking of ways to get back at a certain groundhog who doesn’t seem to know his shadow from a hole in the ground), we’re all looking for a little something to lift our spirits.
And there’s good news. Thanks to Irish immigrants who settled in the U.S. from the time of our nation’s beginning, we have an excuse to get out there and have some fun while we wait for the relief of spring.
And you don’t have to be Irish to enjoy the best celebrations around — just grab some green and hit the streets. We guarantee you’ll have a good time.
St. Patrick’s Day is observed on March 17th each year to honor the Saint who brought Christianity to the pagan cultures of Ireland.
St. Patrick is said to have been kidnapped from Britain as a young child and taken to Ireland to spend years in servitude. When he escaped and made it back home, he entered the monastery – and vowed to return one day to Ireland to convert the masses.
Patrick was extremely successful in his ministry, and to this day, Ireland is a predominantly Catholic nation proud of their heritage and its patron saint.
Saint Patrick’s Day is now celebrated in more countries worldwide than any other national festival.
Not only does it honor the spread of Christianity, but it gives us all a chance to enjoy a good party.
The last place you’d expect…
We may think that the festivities associated with St. Patrick’s Day didn’t take hold in the U.S. until the rush of Irish immigrants around the turn of the twentieth century, but it’s actually been celebrated here for much longer.
In fact, you’ll be surprised to learn that the world’s first recorded St. Patrick’s Day party happened not in Ireland, but in St. Augustine, Florida – all the way back in 1600.
The very first St. Patrick’s parade took place there the next year too. This was thanks to an Irish vicar who brought the festivities to this early Spanish colony.
Less surprising is that the first official celebration of St. Patty’s Day in the thirteen colonies was put on in Boston by the Charitable Irish Society in 1737. Next, New York jumped on the idea to celebrate the annual feast in 1762.
But these early celebrations were not what we think of today. Instead of leprechauns, parades, and lots of drinking, these early observations involved solemn religious dinners and worship services.
And they were actually organized by Irish Protestants in the colonies, even though we think of the Feast of St. Patrick as being historically Catholic.
As far back as colonial times, Irish settlers helped build the foundation of America. But during the immigration boom in the late 1800s is when Irish traditions really took hold – including the magic and fun of what would become the modern St. Patrick’s Day celebration.
Irish immigrants brought their legends and folktales to the U.S. – tales of luck and adventure, wee folk who liked to play tricks, traditional songs and dances, food and drink, and of course, the colors of the Emerald Isle.
Now, you can find a St. Patrick’s Day parade in pretty much any city or town all over the U.S. and even in many other parts of the world.
Children make their leprechaun traps and hope to catch a little guy that will bring them some good luck and a little magic.
And the big kids dress in green and hit the bars for a pint of Guinness, or a couple (or more) green beers, wishing that St. Patrick’s Day was a national holiday like in Ireland so they could stay home and nurse their hangovers.
Nope, it’s not Boston.
Yes, you’d think the oldest and largest St. Patrick’s Day celebration in the U.S. would take place in the city with the largest population of Irish-Americans.
But you’d be wrong — the honor actually goes to New York City.
The interesting thing about New York’s famous St. Patrick’s Day parade – which has a quarter million participants walking the parade route and millions of spectators lining the streets – is that floats and cars are not allowed.
So what good is a parade without floats? Well, this is the party of all parties, with bagpipers, dancers, street performers, bands – just about everything you can think of – and the parade route appropriately passes in front of St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
But, get some rest the night before. New York’s parade lasts upwards of six hours.
After the floatless parade, New Yorkers and visitors from all over the world take part in the St. Patrick’s Day pub crawl.
Restaurants and bars serve all the best traditional Irish food and drink, and we bet the city takes the top spot for the most people to call out sick from work the next morning.
So, Boston, right?
Wrong again. (I’m a woman. I like to point that out.)
The second largest St. Patrick’s Day celebration in the U.S. happens in Savannah, Georgia.
The city hosts a festival several days long, full of family-friendly activities. Vendors line the streets selling handmade wares, and street performers put on a great show at all hours of the day.
Savannah’s parade not only has floats and hundreds of performers from local schools and organizations, but boasts a surprise twist. This is the deep south, so you’ll find a few groups of Civil War re-enactors marching down the parade route celebrating their Irish-Confederate heritage too.
Savannah is known for its beautiful gardens and fountains, and the “Greening of the Fountains” offers a nod to this city’s unique history.
We’ll take your fountains and raise you an entire river!
We’re off to another great city known for its St. Patrick’s Day festivities…and it’s still not Boston.
Chicago is home to one of the nation’s largest Irish-American populations – they’re actually referred to as the “Chirish.”
Chicago holds a huge annual parade of its own, but it’s best known for a modern-day wonder of the world. Each year, the Journeymen Plumbers Local Union dyes the Chicago River a bright green.
Before you go screaming about pollution from toxic chemicals, they use a natural vegetable dye. The only drawback is that it only keeps the river green for a few short hours, so you’ll want to get a spot in the crowd early.
The Windy City has all the traditional St. Paddy’s day trappings, and also a few unique offerings.
There’s nothing better for a hangover than a big breakfast, so as is inspired by Dr. Seuss, fill up your aching belly at Kegs and Eggs or Green Eggs and Hammered, two St. Patrick’s Day foodie celebrations.
This city knows how to throw a party – and how to help you recover afterward.
Drum roll please…
To Boston we go!
A full quarter of this city’s population has Irish roots, so they throw a great party. It may not be the oldest or largest, but it may be the most authentically Irish.
Folks travel from all over New England and elsewhere to experience the frenzy of Boston’s St. Patrick’s Day parade and after-parties.
The day starts off with a unique city breakfast, where politicians travel from all over the state to be roasted by the locals known for their sense of humor.
You’ll get the best Irish experience here, and with so many Irish pubs all over the city, there’s no shortage of traditional offerings like corned beef and cabbage, every potato dish you could dream of, rivers of beer, and the best whiskey you can buy.
Bostonians are authentic and honest, and if you can brave the crowds, you won’t regret experiencing at least one St. Patrick’s Day in this historic city.
The Emerald Isle itself
We can’t forget to mention where it all started.
If you have the means to travel across the pond, Dublin is the place to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day.
We probably don’t have to mention the traditional music, dance, and libations, but there are many special events held in Dublin for St. Patrick’s Day that last for days.
There are boat races, the usual parade which ends at the original St. Patrick’s Cathedral, walking tours that trace the footsteps of the day’s namesake and nation’s patron saint, and of course, beer and whiskey festivals.
There’s no better place to experience the magic of the Irish heritage than in a little Irish pub, and there are plenty of family-friendly events going on throughout the week as well.
The Guinness Supper Club will show you how to pair the most famous Irish stout with traditional foods, and after you’re full, you can take a stroll through this charming city.
The Greening of the City means that you can take in the historic streets under the glow of thousands of green lights for an experience worthy of this magical land and its proud heritage.
However – and wherever – you celebrate St. Patrick’s Day this year, you’re walking in the footsteps of millions of others who have adopted the spirit, heritage, and magic of the Irish people.
The festivities have become a big business here in the U.S. and offer something that everyone can enjoy and participate in.
In fact, St. Paddy’s Day has become such a part of American culture that the north fountain of the White House is dyed green each year to recognize this day’s significance.
St. Patrick himself would probably shake his head in disbelief at how his feast day has evolved, but we’ll bet he’d agree that it’s turned into one heck of a party celebrating a very special land and its history.
If you can’t get enough of the myths and legends of the Emerald Isle, read our Proud American Traveler article here for more.
Do you have a favorite destination or tradition to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day? Leave us your comments.