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  • Writer's pictureNatalija Ugrina

A River of Green: St. Patrick's Day Celebrations in Chicago

Hello, my world travelers! I’ve just spent an unforgettable day submerged in a world where every corner whispered tales of emerald magic. For the longest time, I've seen pictures and heard stories about Chicago's transformation into a green wonderland for St. Patrick’s Day, but witnessing this spectacle firsthand today was like stepping into a fairy tale come alive.

st patrick's day in chicago green river march 16 2024

The Emerald Heart of Chicago

The story of the green river is as whimsical and fascinating as the event itself. It all began in 1962, when Stephen Bailey, a member of the Chicago Journeymen Plumbers Local Union #130, got the idea to dye the Chicago River green for St. Patrick’s Day . The idea stemmed from a method used to detect leaks, where a special dye was employed that could be seen in the water, revealing the locations of pollution discharges. This inspired Bailey and his team to transform the river into a flowing emerald ribbon, symbolizing the city’s immense pride and celebration of Irish culture. Initially, 100 pounds of dye were used, turning the river green for a week! Nowadays, the amount has been adjusted to ensure the river turns the perfect shade of green for about five hours, a testament to the city’s commitment to environmental responsibility while keeping the tradition alive.

green river chicago st pattys day

More Than Just a River

But Chicago’s St. Patrick’s Day celebration is more than just the river dyeing. The city’s parade is one of the oldest and largest of its kind in the U.S., with thousands of spectators lining the streets to enjoy floats, dancers, bands, and all sorts of Irish cultural symbols. It’s a day when the whole city comes together, regardless of one's heritage, to celebrate a sense of community and shared joy. The energy in the air is palpable, with the sounds of Irish music, the sight of people dressed in green, and the delicious smell of traditional Irish food enveloping the city.

chicago river green

St. Patrick’s Day in America: A Coast-to-Coast Celebration

While Chicago is renowned for its unique river dyeing, St. Patrick’s Day resonates across the United States, with cities from Boston to San Francisco hosting parades, festivals, and gatherings. Boston, with its deeply embedded Irish heritage, boasts one of the largest and oldest parades, a testament to its significant Irish population. New York City's parade, a spectacle of grandeur, marches up Fifth Avenue, drawing visitors from around the globe. In Savannah, Georgia, the celebration is imbued with Southern charm, featuring one of the oldest public parades in the nation.

The United States holds the distinction of having a substantial Irish-American community, with states like Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Pennsylvania boasting the highest percentages of Irish ancestry. These communities play a pivotal role in keeping the traditions and spirit of St. Patrick’s Day alive, weaving the cultural fabric that makes this holiday so deeply rooted in American celebration.

Global Celebrations: The World Turns Green

Beyond the shores of America, St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated worldwide, with countries embracing the day with their unique customs and traditions. Ireland, the homeland of St. Patrick, celebrates with festivals, parades, and the wearing of green. The day is marked by a public holiday, with communities coming together to honor their patron saint through music, dance, and storytelling.

Globally, landmarks light up in green, from the Sydney Opera House to the Great Wall of China, symbolizing a worldwide connection on this day. In London, a parade showcases the diversity of the Irish community in the UK, while in Dubai, the Burj Khalifa lights up in green, showcasing the global reach of this cultural celebration.

Unusual Traditions and Customs

  • Drowning the Shamrock: In Ireland and among the Irish diaspora, it’s customary to end St. Patrick’s Day by “drowning the shamrock.” This involves placing a shamrock at the bottom of a cup, which is then filled with whiskey, beer, or cider. It’s drunk as a toast to St. Patrick, and either the shamrock is swallowed with the drink, or it is taken out and thrown over the shoulder for good luck.

  • Shortest St. Patrick’s Day Parade: In Hot Springs, Arkansas, there’s a peculiarly brief celebration known as the “Shortest St. Patrick’s Day Parade.” Held on the 98-foot-long Bridge Street, which was once listed in Ripley's Believe It or Not as the shortest street in everyday use, this parade boasts an eccentric and intimate celebration of Irish culture.

  • Snake Races: Contrary to Ireland, where there are no snakes, the town of O’Neill, Nebraska (self-proclaimed as the Irish capital of Nebraska), hosts a unique “snake race” on St. Patrick’s Day, celebrating the legend of St. Patrick driving the snakes out of Ireland. Plastic snakes are raced by participants, adding a whimsical touch to the festivities.

  • The Greening of Global Landmarks: While not “weird” in the traditional sense, the global tradition of lighting up landmarks in green on St. Patrick’s Day is a relatively new and remarkable phenomenon. From the Great Wall of China to the Christ the Redeemer statue in Brazil, iconic landmarks around the world glow green, showcasing the universal appeal and celebratory spirit of this day.

My Emerald Adventure and Beyond

Experiencing the green-dyed Chicago River firsthand was a reminder of the power of tradition to unite and inspire. As I delved into the peculiar customs that mark St. Patrick’s Day around the world, I was struck by the creativity and diversity of celebrations. These unusual traditions not only add a touch of whimsy to the festivities but also highlight the rich tapestry of cultural expressions that make St. Patrick’s Day a truly global celebration.

So, whether you’re sipping a green beer in Chicago, participating in a snake race in Nebraska, or watching the world’s landmarks light up in emerald hues, St. Patrick’s Day is a testament to the enduring spirit of the Irish and the joyous embrace of their culture around the globe. Here’s to the quirky, the traditional, and the wonderfully green ways we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. 💚

chicago st patrick day 2024

3,365 views4 comments

4 opmerkingen

18 mrt.

Great post! I have heard of this but have not been able to make the trip from Virginia. Definitely on my to do list. Thank you for sharing! You look amazing as always!


Mark Guillen
Mark Guillen
18 mrt.

Awesome!!! 😎 I grew up in the south side of Chicago, it was always a tradition..👍👍💖🌉 Love for the City...


18 mrt.

Goooooooood mum.


17 mrt.

Very interesting perspective of St Patrick’s Day and I learned something. Thanks for taking the very in-depth view of St Patrick’s all over the world

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