For more than 1,000 years, St. Patrick’s Day has been celebrated on March 17, where Irish and non-Irish folk alike gather to pay homage to the feast day and the anniversary of the death of St. Patrick , a significant religious icon whose existence dates back to the 5th century. In this article, you will learn about the first parade and other interesting facts concerning this Irish holiday.
St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated during the same time as the Christian observance of Lent. Irish families would traditionally attend church in the morning and break into celebration in the afternoon. At this time, the limitations of Lent were lifted and people could eat meat once again. Dancing, drinking, and feasting would take place and the customary meal of Irish bacon and cabbage was most likely served.
The First Parade
You’d think that the first parade associated with the Irish holiday of St. Patrick’s Day would have taken place in Ireland, but it was actually observed in the United States. Irish soldiers that had served with the English military marched about the streets of New York City on March 17, 1762. This was a time for the Irish soldiers to reconnect with their roots, as they entertained one another with their traditional music and other customs.
Irish patriotism amongst American immigrants would prosper over the next 35 years and the culture started to benefit from societies that focused on “Irish Aid,” including the Friendly Sons of Saint Patrick and the Hibernian Society. Various groups would hold annual parades with the sounds of bagpipes and drums filling the air. The use of bagpipes was actually a popular practice amongst members of the Scottish and British armies.
It wasn’t under nearly 100 years later (in 1848) that several New York Irish aid societies decided to unite their parades to create a large celebration known as the New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade. Nowadays, the crowds of this particular often reaches more than 150,000 participants and is considered the oldest civilian parade in the world. In the United States, the parade is also the largest. Yearly, about three million people gather to watch the parade, which takes more than five hours to complete. Other notable St. Patrick’s Day parades are known to take place in Chicago, Philadelphia, and Boston.
Numbers Mean Power
St. Patrick’s Day celebrations not only have a religious history, but have also played a role in politics. Up until the mid-19th century, the majority of Irish immigrants in America belonged to the Protestant middle class. However, the Great Potato Famine of 1845 that took place in Ireland would cause an increase in Irish numbers in America. Nearly one million Catholic Irish turned to a life in America to escape starvation. When they reached the United States, they were poor and without any education. This made finding a job especially difficult in America. On top of this, the American Protestant majority looked down upon the Irish immigrants for their religious beliefs and the way they spoke.