St. Patrick’s Day Parades: Exploring The Roots Of Irish Celebrations In The South
by Amy Ingram
St. Patrick’s Day is a cultural and religious holiday celebrated annually on March 17th. It is a day when people of Irish descent, and those who simply love the culture, come together to honor St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland.
But Who Was St. Patrick?
He was actually born in Britain around AD 390, but at age 16, he was taken captive and sold into slavery in Ireland. After six years, he escaped and returned home, only to have a vision calling him back to Ireland as a missionary. He spent the rest of his life spreading the Christian faith throughout Ireland and is credited with converting much of the island to Christianity.
St. Patrick’s Day is not only a celebration of St. Patrick himself, but also of Irish culture and heritage. It’s a day for people of all backgrounds to come together and celebrate the rich history and traditions of Ireland. Today, it’s celebrated in many countries around the world, but its origins can be traced back to Ireland.
In Ireland, St. Patrick’s Day has been celebrated as a religious holiday for over 1,000 years. Traditionally, it was a day for attending church services and spending time with family. In fact, until the 1970s, pubs and bars in Ireland were closed on St. Patrick’s Day, as it was considered a solemn and religious occasion.
An American Celebration
However, in the United States, St. Patrick’s Day has taken on a different meaning. It’s a day for parades, parties, and wearing green. It’s become a celebration of Irish-American heritage and a way for people to connect with their roots.
The first St. Patrick’s Day parade in the United States was actually held in New York City in 1762. It was organized by a group of Irish soldiers who were serving in the British army. The parade grew in popularity over the years, and today it’s one of the largest St. Patrick’s Day parades in the world, drawing millions of spectators.
Other cities in the United States soon followed suit, holding their own St. Patrick’s Day parades. Boston held its first parade in 1737, and Chicago held its first parade in 1843. Today, St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated in cities and towns all across the country.
St. Patrick’s Day has also become a day for wearing green, a tradition that began in Ireland. According to legend, wearing green makes you invisible to leprechauns, mischievous fairies who are said to pinch anyone they can see. Today, people wear green to show their love for Ireland and their Irish heritage.
Irish Parades Down South
The history of St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in the South dates back to the early days of Irish immigration to the United States. In the early 1800s, Irish immigrants began arriving in the Southern states, many of whom were seeking better economic opportunities and a new start in a new land. As these immigrants settled into their new communities, they brought with them the customs and traditions of their homeland, including the celebration of St. Patrick’s Day.
The earliest St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in the South were often small gatherings held in private homes, with families and friends coming together to honor their Irish heritage and celebrate the patron saint of Ireland. Over time, these celebrations grew in size and scope, with parades and festivals becoming common in cities throughout the region.
One of the most famous and well-known St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in the South is held in Savannah, Georgia. The city’s St. Patrick’s Day parade is the largest and oldest in the region, dating back to 1824. The parade, which typically attracts hundreds of thousands of spectators each year, winds its way through the streets of Savannah, with floats, bands, and other participants decked out in green and other traditional Irish colors.
Savannah’s St. Patrick Day Parade
The history of the Savannah St. Patrick’s Day parade is deeply intertwined with the history of the city itself. The first parade was held in 1824 by a group of Hibernian Society members, a fraternal organization founded by Irish immigrants in the city in the early 1800s. The parade has continued annually since then, with only a handful of interruptions due to wars and other conflicts.
The parade, which has been an annual tradition since 1824, draws over half a million visitors to the city each year. The parade is held on March 17th, the traditional day of the holiday, unless it falls on a Sunday, then it is held on the 16th.
The parade begins at 10:15am and features a procession of colorful floats, marching bands, and dancers, all decked out in green and white. The parade route winds through the historic district of Savannah, passing by some of the city’s most iconic landmarks such as Forsyth Park, City Hall, and the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist.
The parade is a celebration of Irish heritage and culture, as well as a tribute to St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland. The parade features the traditional Irish music and dance, and many of the floats and participants wear traditional Irish attire.
One of the highlights of the parade is the Grand Marshal, who leads the procession in a horse-drawn carriage. The Grand Marshal is typically a prominent member of the Irish-American community and is chosen for their contributions to the community and their representation of Irish heritage.
The parade is not just a one-day event, but a week-long celebration that includes a variety of events and activities leading up to the parade. The festivities kick off with the Greening of the Fountain, where the fountain in Forsyth Park is dyed green, and continue with events such as the Tara Feis Irish Celebration, the Celtic Cross Ceremony, and the St. Patrick’s Day Firefighters’ Parade.
The parade also has a strong philanthropic element, with many of the participants and organizers raising funds for local charities and non-profit organizations.
If you plan on attending the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Savannah, be sure to arrive early to secure a good spot along the parade route, and don’t forget to wear your green! And if you can’t make it to Savannah, be sure to check out one of the many other St. Patrick’s Day Parades happening throughout the South.
More Celebrations Throughout The South
The tradition of St. Patrick’s Day parades has spread throughout the world, with many cities and towns holding their own celebrations. In addition to the parades mentioned above, some other notable St. Patrick’s Day parades in the southern United States include:
- Charlotte, North Carolina – The Charlotte St. Patrick’s Day Parade and Festival draws thousands of participants and spectators to the city each year.
- Greenville, South Carolina – The St. Paddy’s Day Dash and Bash is a popular event in downtown Greenville, featuring a 5K race and a post-race party with live music and Irish food and drink.
- Roanoke, Virginia – The Roanoke St. Patrick’s Day Parade and Shamrock Festival is a family-friendly event with live music, food, and activities for all ages.
- Knoxville, Tennessee – The Knoxville St. Patrick’s Day Parade and Cel-O’bragh-tion is a festive event with a parade, live music, and food and drink vendors.
No matter which St. Patrick’s Day parade you attend, you’re sure to be swept up in the lively atmosphere and festive spirit of the day. Whether you’re Irish or not, the holiday is a great excuse to get out and enjoy the sights, sounds, and tastes of the season.
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