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History of the St. Patrick's Day Parade in America
Who was St. Patrick?
St. Patrick was a Romano-British Christian missionary—born in England—who is generally recognized as the primary patron saint of Ireland. He was born circa 387 AD and died on March 17. The year of his death has been listed as being 440 AD or 460 AD or 493 AD.
What is a parade?
A parade, as used in this article, is an organized public procession, usually with marching bands, held in honor of a person or event. It is a festive celebration often organized on an annual basis. True parades are marching only—no floats or vehicles, "leg power" only.
What is St. Patrick’s Day?
St. Patrick’s Day is a religious and cultural holiday which commemorates Saint Patrick and the arrival of Christianity in Ireland. It is celebrated on March 17th, the anniversary of the death of the man who became the patron saint of Ireland.
Saint Patrick’s Day—the Feast of Saint Patrick—is commemorated by attending church services, wearing green clothing, parades, drinking alcohol, and the lifting of Lenten restrictions on eating. Lá Fhéile Pádraig—the Day of the Festival of Patrick—is a public holiday in the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, Newfoundland and Labrador in Canada, and Montserrat (a Caribbean island which is a British overseas territory).
The first parade commemorating the death of St. Patrick was held on March 17, 1762 in New York City—14 years before the Declaration of Independence was adopted.
Have you ever attended a St. Patrick's Day parade?
What is the origin of the Saint Patrick's Day Parade?
New York City was home to many ex-patriot Irish in the second half of the 18th century, many of whom were indentured servants. In addition, Irish military serving with the British Army were stationed in the American colonies.
In 1762, a group of homesick Irish decided to hold a parade commemorating St. Patrick. This was at a time when the wearing of green was a sign of Irish pride and was banned in Ireland.
In the American colonies, the Irish immigrants and military had the freedom to speak Irish, wear green, sing Irish songs, and play Irish bagpipe music. They celebrated this freedom in the parade held on the anniversary of the death of Saint Patrick.
St. Patrick's Day had been been celebrated as a feast day in Ireland, but the first recorded St. Patrick's Day Parade in history was the March 17, 1762 parade in New York City (Manhattan).
Have you ever marched in a St. Patrick's Day parade?
For the first few years, military units organized the St. Patrick’s Day Parade. Irish fraternal organizations began organizing and hosting the parade after the War of 1812. In the mid-1800s, the fraternal organizations and various other Irish societies merged. The size of the parade grew considerably, and the Ancient Order of Hibernians became the parade’s official sponsor.
Commercial entities are not allowed to participate in the New York City St. Patrick's Day Parade. There are no automobiles or other vehicles driven in the parade, and there aren't any floats. The parade is a true "parade"—marching only.
Leatherneck Pipes & Drums
Mike McCracken, a former United States Marine, leads the Leatherneck Pipes & Drums during the 249th annual St. Patrick's Day Parade in New York City on March 17, 2010. A contingent of more than 300 Marines, including the Quantico Marine Corps Band, ceremonial marchers from Marine Barracks Washington, and active and reserve Marines and Marine Corps League members from the New York area marched in honor of Grand Marshal Raymond W. Kelly, New York City Police Commissioner and retired Marine Corps colonel.
This photograph was taken by Sgt. Randall A. Clinton, a U.S. military member, in the course of his official duties. As a work of the U.S. federal government, the image is in the public domain.