St. Patrick’s Day is one of the most popular holidays in southeast Georgia. It draws thousands of visitors and locals to Savannah each year.
With traditions dating back to 1812, St. Patrick’s Day brings a time of great food, fun and festivities to the coast. Schools shut down, shuttle buses begin to run, fountains turn green and Irish celebrations are in full swing. Parades and festivals fill the streets as spectators gather in green.
The Savannah St. Patrick’s Day Parade, which began in 1813, is the second largest in the U.S., only behind New York. More than 300,000 people are expected to visit and enjoy the citywide festivities, according to savannah.com.
St. Patrick was actually born in Britain in the 4th century. At 16, he was kidnapped and taken to Ireland by Irish marauders. He turned to Christianity during his six years in captivity, while he was herding and tending sheep, and escaped after having a dream from God in which he was told to leave Ireland by going to the coast, according to catholic.org.
A few years later, he saw another vision that, he wrote in his memoirs, was of a man who handed him a letter titled “The Voice of the Irish.” As he read the letter, according to catholic.org, he imagined hearing people near the western Irish coast crying out “as with one voice: ‘We appeal to you, holy servant boy, to come and walk among us.’”
So Patrick studied for the priesthood, was ordained a bishop and sent to take the gospel to Ireland, according to the website.
He died March, 17, 461, and centuries later was honored as the patron saint of Ireland. The day of his death marks the annual celebration.
He used the three leaves of the shamrock to explain the holy trinity. The shamrock was placed in the lapel area and later influenced those celebrating the holiday to wear green clothing. Shamrocks became a symbol of luck and were associated with St. Patrick as a 20th-century logo on a greeting card. The shamrock was more a symbol of wishing good luck then an actual symbol of luck.
Parade traditions started in America. The first record of a St. Patrick’s Day parade was in New York in 1762. Today, the New York parade is the largest, with nearly 3 million spectators. In 1991, Congress designated March as Irish-American Heritage Month. Today, the holiday is celebrate by Irish and non-Irish alike. Traditionally for most Irish-Americans, the day is both religious and festive.
Not only does March 17 mark the day of celebration for St. Patrick, it also has become one of the leading days of alcohol consumption in the United States. The holiday has often been criticized because of this indulgence.
Nonetheless, St. Patrick’s Day continues to stand out. Those not wearing green may receive a little pinch as custom. The Savannah St. Patrick’s Day Parade Committee recently named Michael Foran the grand marshal of this year’s parade. Foran will help kick off the parade route at 10:15 a.m. today. Spectators will jockey for the best viewing spots; some will make their way to the parade route as early as 6 a.m.
Other festivities taking place this weekend include the St. Patrick’s Day Festival on River Street and at City Market, which runs today through Saturday.
“These two places will be jamming with a three-day St. Patrick’s Day Festival,” according to savannah.com. “Not only will there be live entertainment and activities to partake in, but there will also be interactive artists, photo booths and food and beverage areas.”
On Saturday, people can take part in — or just watch — Savannah’s Kilt and Color Run. The 5K is held at Savannah Christian Preparatory School, and registration runs from $20 to $30. Participants come clean and leave green as they get powdered during run.
“The day’s spirit is to celebrate the universal baptization of Ireland,” according to theholidayspot.com. “Though originally a Catholic holy day, St. Patrick’s Day has evolved into more of a secular holiday. Or, rather, ‘Be an Irish Day.’ And the Irish (have) borne it as part of their national tradition in everywhere they populated and prospered.”