St. Patrick’s Day is March 17, but you don’t have to be Irish to celebrate. In fact, it might surprise you to learn that it’s one of the most universally celebrated holidays around the world — and not just among those of Irish heritage. As the name suggested, St. Patrick’s Day is rooted in religious traditions. Over the years, however, it has grown into a cultural celebration observed by people of all nationalities.
One of the most popular ways to celebrate is the “wearing of the green.” Every March 17 in cities and towns around the world, individuals adorn themselves in emerald green tones and shamrock accessories (Click here for Irish jewelry and collectibles that let your Irish pride shine). And that’s just the beginning. Scroll down for a list of our favorite St. Paddy’s traditions from around the world, then share them with your friends and family — perhaps they’ll inspire your next St. Patrick’s Day celebration!
Dublin, Ireland — The St. Patrick’s Festival
In Ireland, St. Patrick’s Day is first and foremost a religious occasion, and many people start the day by attending mass, followed by parades and festivities. However, in 1995, the Irish government set out to widen the scope of the celebration with an emphasis on cultural and national pride. Thus they established the St. Patrick’s Festival, a lavish showcase of the many diverse talents, skills and achievements of the Emerald Isle and its people.
This days-long festival takes place in Dublin, where iconic buildings throughout the city are illuminated with green lights. There’s an impressive variety of entertainment, including “Funfairs” with carnival rides, an indoor “village” with craft beers and whiskeys, guided tours, concerts, lectures and more. The main event is the parade, which features musical groups and “pageants,” or processions of theater, puppetry, colorful costumes, elaborate floats, choreographed dance and music. Needless to say, it’s a spectacular event that’s sure to make anyone wish they were Irish!
Chicago, Illinois — The Greening of the River
In 1961, Stephen Bailey, the leader of the plumber’s union (and chairman of the city’s St. Patrick’s Day parade) noticed a fellow plumber’s white coveralls were stained the perfect shade of Irish green. He had been part of a crew pouring green dye into the river to detect leaks, and thus a tradition was born. Every year since, the Chicago Journeymen Plumbers have poured gallons of the special dye (a secret formula that is closely guarded, but environmentally safe) into the Chicago River. It’s an impressive sight to behold. The dye is actually an orange color, but when the water is churned, it turns a dazzling shade of bright emerald green. Many cities have tried to reproduce this effect in their rivers and lakes, but so far, none have succeeded.
Munich, Germany — St. Patrick’s Day Parade and Festival
Munich is home to one of Europe’s largest St. Patrick’s Day parades outside of Ireland. Over 50 musical, athletic, theatrical, dance, cultural and political groups participate in the parade, which is followed by the blessing of the Shamrock and speeches by the festival’s guests of honor. But Germany’s capital city doesn’t stop there — there is an after-parade party in which revelers can enjoy a performance featuring traditional, classical and contemporary Irish music and dance, plus a headlining band (this year’s party will feature a Romanian group of Celtic punk rockers called Selfish Murphy).
Tokyo, Japan — St. Patrick’s Day Parade
One of the more surprising places to host a St. Patrick’s Day parade is Tokyo, Japan. But last year, an estimated 30,000 green-clad spectators turned out to watch the annual parade, which started in 1996 as a way to introduce Irish culture to Japan. The city decorates with Irish flags as a procession of floats, Irish dancers, Irish setters, performers dressed as leprechauns, and a marching band winds its way down the streets. Last year’s celebration even included a group of Samurai warriors dressed all in green. After the parade, revelers flock to the city’s many Irish pubs or join in an outdoor festival featuring traditional Irish food, green beer, and a stage with Irish entertainers.
Montreal, Canada — A Centuries-Old Tradition
Montreal, a city whose flag features a Shamrock on its lower right side, has been celebrating St. Patrick’s Day with a parade every year — rain, snow, slush or shine — since 1824. That makes it the oldest St. Patrick’s Day parade in Canada, and it’s also one of the largest and most jovial. The celebration that follows and precedes the parade is just as jubilant, with festivities that include live music, pub crawls and Irish breakfasts spanning several days.
New York City, New York — the World’s Biggest Parade
It’s only fitting that America’s biggest city should be home to the biggest St. Patrick’s Day parade. Lasting nearly six hours and drawing nearly two million spectators, New York City’s annual parade first began when homesick Irish soldiers serving in the British army started their own parade in 1762. Nowadays, anyone around the world can tune in to see the spectacular procession of floats, dancers and bagpipers, as the parade is broadcast on national television. Also noteworthy is the “greening” of the Empire State Building, which glows with emerald green light in honor of the holiday.
Auckland, New Zealand — A Spectacular Greening
Even Kiwis are Irish on St. Patrick’s Day! Actually, Auckland’s festivities begin several days before March 17 with a St. Patrick’s Fair featuring Gaelic football, food stalls, kids’ rides and Irish music and dance. Then there’s the parade, the Fleadh (a Gaelic word for music festival), and the Greening of Auckland, which includes drinks, appetizers, music and the illumination of the Skytower in emerald-green light.
Buenos Aires, Argentina — Irish Fun in the Streets of South America
To experience St. Patrick’s Day South American style, head to Buenos Aires for the continent’s largest celebrations of the holiday. Surprisingly enough, this vibrant city is home to one of the world’s largest Irish communities. The festivities often span at least a few days and include Irish food, music and dance performances — and plenty of libations, of course! In addition to a St. Patrick’s Day parade through the Plaza San Martin, Buenos Aires celebrates with giant street parties featuring live music and lasting all through the night.
International Space Station — St. Patrick’s Day Tributes from Space
In recent years, astronauts on board the International Space Station have found some unique ways to celebrate St. Paddy’s Day while floating weightless. In 2011, Irish-American astronaut Catherine Coleman played a 100-year-old flute and a tin whistle belonging to two members of the Irish music group The Chieftains, who later featured her rendition on one of their albums. Two years later, Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield took photographs of Ireland from earth’s orbit and recorded himself singing “Danny Boy,” sharing both online. Last year, astronaut Terry Virts tweeted photos of the Emerald Isle, along with a puzzle challenging his followers to guess which image showed Boston from space.
These are just some of the most interesting St. Patrick’s Day traditions from around the world. What are YOUR favorite ways to celebrate Irish pride? Share with us in the comments below. Thanks for reading — and Erin Go Bragh!How Different Cities Celebrate St. Patrick's Day by Ann Kelley