The feast of Ireland’s patron saint IS a big deal, not just for the people who live on that island. Even those who live halfway around the world take part in different St. Patrick’s Day celebrations, as this infographic by Betway shows with a few great examples of how the feast day is often celebrated worldwide (in times of peace that is...).
But if there is a place on earth that is just as enthusiastic in celebrating St. Patrick’s Day as Ireland, that would be New York City. Not only does the Empire State Building get its emerald green on, but the Big Apple also hosts the largest St. Paddy’s day parade in the entire world. Nearly two million people, including over 150,000 parade dancers, artists, and musicians, take part in this gigantic event. Thousands take part in the various activities that lead up to the grand parade.
The tradition started as a small event. On March 17, 1762, a group of Irish military members and ex-patriots who were staying in New York decided to hold a parade in celebration of their freedom to wear green, speak their native tongue, play their bagpipes, and sing Irish songs during the feast day of St. Patrick. The revelry attracted more and more people until it has turned into a huge event that millions of people join, and millions more watch. New Yorkers spend days, even weeks, partying in preparation for the main event.
However, with the last two years’ events forcing people to stay indoors and preventing them from gathering, New York’s 2021 St. Paddy's celebrations became a repeat of what happened in 2020. For months, the local government kept their eyes on the city’s Covid status in the hopes of being able to continue with the parade. Pubs and hotels were all hopeful that they will be able to push through with the planned festivities that were canceled the previous year. Unfortunately, conditions did not improve, and all the physical gatherings had to be scrapped yet again.
In the morning of March 17, a small contingent made up of Mayor Bill De Blasio and several members of the Fighting 69th Regiment marched from the Armory on Lexington Avenue up to St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue. They were greeted outside by Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, Archbishop of New York, before celebrating the traditional mass. The presence of the small group of people was a minor improvement over last year’s celebration when Cardinal Dolan held the St. Patrick’s mass sans congregation.
After the mass, an honor guard made up of essential workers and first responders proceeded to go over the parade’s usual route. An hour-long virtual parade was streamed on the event’s official website as well as on its Facebook page. The broadcast also featured video footage of New York's past St. Patrick’s Day celebrations as well as greetings from prominent Irish and American community leaders. These were followed by musical performances by various artists like Andy Clooney and Moya Brennan.
This year’s celebration honored the essential workers and first responders who valiantly worked through the pandemic. Despite being forced yet again to conduct most of the festivities virtually, the Irish community remains determined to celebrate their proudest tradition.