Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Green beer. Green river. A parade. And all the green you can possible wear. These are just a few things that characterize the St. Patrick's Day festivities in downtown Chicago. However Chicago is not the only city to put on quite a show for the holiday.

The first traditions originate from the Irish who would celebrate the anniversary of St. Patrick's death in the fifth century. It began as a Christian holiday and the anniversary fell during the season of Lent. Therefore, the Irish would attend church and services in the morning; however in the afternoon, the Lenten restrictions were put aside for the day. Families would feast, dance, and drink to celebrate.

Parades were never a part of the tradition until Irish soldiers marched through New York City while they were serving in the English army. Therefore, on March 17, 1762 the tradition was born. Since that time the Irish immigrants in the United States flourished and they began to form Irish Aid Societies. These were meant to promote their heritage and traditions as Irish Americans; each Aid Society held their own parade. They all began coming together in 1848 in New York City, and they put on the United States' largest parade. It is now the oldest civilian parade in the world!

Meanwhile, Ireland still used the day as a Christian holiday. Laws prohibited pubs from opening on March 17 up until the 1970s. During this time, the Irish government changed its mind and began to use the holiday as an opportunity to increase tourism. A national campaign began in 1995 to encourage visitors from all over the world. Today Dublin has parades, concerts, theatre productions, and fireworks for several days in honor of St. Patrick.

Much like other cities in the United States, Chicago provides large amounts of entertainment for visitors on March 17. Pub-crawls, parades, and lots of green beer are at every traveler's disposal. However, Chicago offers and very unique experience in comparison to other U.S. cities. The infamous dying the Chicago River green draws even more visitors. Pollution control workers in 1962 added green vegetable dye to the river to find sources of illegal sewage. They discovered that 100 pounds of green vegetable dye was enough to keep the river green for a whole week! Thus, they decided it would be a great way to celebrate St. Patrick's Day. Today only 40 pounds of dye are used in an effort to be environmentally friendly.

So, if you are Irish or not, there is plenty to celebrate! Grab all your green attire and hit the streets to celebrate March 17th! Happy St. Patrick's Day!

-Erika TerLouw, HI-Chicago Intern

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