17 things you won’t believe about Saint Patrick’s Day parades around the world

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St. Patrick’s Day is also known as International You’re Irish Today Day.

In countries all over the world, the man who chased the snakes out of the Emerald Isle is remembered through organised walking and quite a bit of drinking. But did you know these celebrations can also involve airborne vegetables, confusing traffic lights and military exercises?

Here are a few things about St. Patrick’s Day parades that may just surprise you. https://twitter.com/chriscatz6/status/313707791980310529

It’s everywhere!

There are loads of St Patrick’s parades in Japan. In fact, there are lots of parades in all sorts of places where you least expect them. The parade in Berlin is huge, for example, and Moscow has a whole series of events for St Patrick’s Day. There’s an Irish ball in Baku. In Dubai and Abu Dhabi there’ll be big nights out. Even the Irish pubs in Ulan Bator will be bedecked in green and serving Irish cuisine. We’d like to think it’s because there’s global love for the Irish people, but it could just be because Guinness is brewed in more than 50 countries around the world.

Everybody wants the shortest parade

The current shortest parade is apparently held in Hot Springs, Arkansas. It’s a mere 98 feet (30 metres). The title used to be held by Dripsey in Ireland where their tiny parade was basically a stumble between the only two pubs in the village, but one of the pubs closed down in 2007. Other places that contest for the title include Maryville in Missouri, Boulder in Colorado, and Pendleton in Oregon. It’s a parade, guys – there’s no shame in letting it last longer than a block.

One person can be a parade

The world’s smallest parade has been held in Enterprise, Alabama, every year since 1993. It consists of only one person, of Irish-descent of course, who walks a single block and back. The parade’s turning point is the Boll Weevil Monument, possibly the world’s only monument to an insect.

The pot of gold is for buying a jet pack

The Chicago River has famously been dyed green for St Paddy every year since 1962. In 2013, a man dressed as a leprechaun used a water jet pack to float above the iconic waters. No doubt this was such a surreal sight that many onlookers decided it really was a leprechaun and went home to sober up.

It’s a Welsh holiday really

The most historically appropriate parade is held in Banwen, Wales. St Patrick, real name Maewyn Succat, was born in Banwen in 385AD. He was kidnapped by pirates at the age of 16 and sold as a slave in Ireland. Years later after coming back to Wales a free man, he then decided to head back to Ireland to do a bit of missionary work and thus a legend was born.

The holiday used to be sober

It’s hard to believe but for more than 60 years, pubs and bars in Ireland were not allowed to open on 17 March. This party-pooping law was ditched during the 1970s – people as far away as Algeria could hear the whole of Ireland sighing in mass relief when the good news was announced.

Older than the USA and just as old as the USA

Yup, two of the U.S.’s most legendary parades are older than the country. New York’s first official parade was held in 1766. Irishmen, soldiers recruited to serve in the American colonies, marked the day 10 years before the Declaration of Independence was signed. Boston’s first recorded parade was in 1737. The public holiday in the city, however, is called Evacuation Day and commemorates one particularly legendary St. Patrick’s Day. On March 17, 1776, General John Henry Knox and his troops positioned 55 cannons on Dorchester Heights and added to the numbers by cutting down trees and painting them black to resemble cannons. When the British saw all the cannons on the Heights they left Boston.

Vandalism led to Seattle’s parade

Seattle’s parade is always preceded the night before by a mini-parade known as the Laying o’ the Green Stripe. It involves painting a temporary green stripe along the route in honour of John Patrick Bishop. Way back when, Bishop used to do the same thing every year with a thick hard-to-shift paint as an attempt to get the city to start a parade. Of course, these attempts simply ended with him getting arrested most of the time. Seattle finally caved though and an official parade was inaugurated in the 1970s.

A Dallas billionaire helped out because of booze

In 2012, Dallas’ parade, one of the biggest in the US, was nearly called off due to the increased security costs needed to cover the event. The manager of the Dallas Mavericks basketball team, Mark Cuban, stepped in and paid it all off. His reasons were rather peculiar: “I just thought it was fair that more people should be able to kill as many brain cells on Greenville Avenue as I have in my life.” In thanks, many people refer to the event nowadays as the St Cuban’s Day Parade.

Push ups for Patrick

The New York City parade is led by The Fighting 69th, brave soldiers who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. They’ve been leading the parade since 1851, Irish Wolfhound mascots in tow. Sometimes during the NYC parade, the soldiers do push ups in front of St Patrick’s Cathedral. This is in honour of all those bench presses St Patrick performed to intimidate all the snakes out of Ireland.

Try catching a cabbage

St Paddy parades held in New Orleans are famous for people throwing the ingredients for Irish stew at each other. In the friendliest way possible! Have a few shopping bags ready and expect to go home with plenty of carrots, potatoes and onions. If only Irish stews contained chocolate … NOLA also hosts a practice parade the week before for no real reason – they just really like parades.

Two states living in harmony

There is one parade that actually crosses state lines. The Quad Cities parade goes over the I-74, an interstate bridge, from Illinois to Iowa. We’re guessing that if it gets too rowdy on the bridge and a crime occurs, the feds have jurisdiction instead of the state troopers. They should make a TV series about it and call it The Bridge. Maybe give it Danish and Norwegian subtitles, for a laugh, like.  

Best titled parade

The “best ever” parade is unavoidably bestowed upon Rolla in Missouri. This could have been because they paint their streets green, or that local students used to dunk themselves in a pit of green liquid called ‘Alice’ as part of the festivities, but it’s actually because they cleverly used the phrase in their official title: 2015 will be called the 107th Annual Best Ever Saint Patrick’s Day 2015. If other parades start doing this, then we won’t know anymore and it’ll be bedlam.

The most Irish traffic light in the world

Syracuse’s parade is held in the Tipperary Hill district, an area so historically Irish that it’s home to a famous one-of-a-kind traffic light where the green has switched places with the red. At midnight, when the 17th of March begins, a shamrock is immediately painted beneath the traffic light to start off the celebrations.

Berlin’s parade is among the youngest St. Pat’s Parades

Berlin’s Saint Patrick’s Day festival was the brainchild of one man – Dara O’Neill, an Irish expat. In 2011 he and 150 of his closest friends got together to drown the shamrock. The following year saw a ten-fold increase when 1,500 revellers and the Irish Ambassador to Germany turned out. In 2013, 5,000 people enjoyed the Saint Patrick’s Day festival, a week-long celebration of whiskey tastings, film screenings, literary readings AND a costume workshop. Given this trajectory we reckon Berlin could become one of the biggest green celebrations in the world!

To Russia with love

Not content with celebrating on March 17, the far-flung Irish and Hibernophiles tear it up for an Irish Week that inexplicably lasts for 12 days (March 11-22). There’s more than 120 events showcasing the best of Irish culture and art throughout Russia. Moscow, St Petersburg, Yakutsk, Vladivostok and Yekaterinburg are all going green.

In Moscow, Sokolniki Park, the cinema “Formula Kino Gorizont”, the Gogol Centre, the Mayakovskiy Theatre, the Centre of Documentary film (TsDK) and the club “Yota Space (Glavclub) will all throw open their doors.

Sake is almost like snake

Of course there are no snakes in Ireland. Aside from converting the pagan Irish to Christianity Saint Patrick drove the snakes out of Ireland. In the land of sake – Japan – Diageo is a major sponsor of the Tokyo parade. Diageo make Guinness, Kilkenny and Baileys of course, but no sake as far as we know.

The second annual I Love Ireland Festival will take place in Tokyo on March 15 while the parade, organised by the Irish Network Japan, is going strong in its 23rd year.


(Feature image: Diana Nguyen)

17 things you won’t believe about Saint Patrick’s Day parades around the world was last modified: June 26th, 2019 by Adam Zulawski