So what is St. Patrick’s Day other than just an excuse to eat, drink and be very, very merry? And what is it about St. Patrick’s Day in Chicago that makes every other celebration seem tiny in comparison? We decided to find out for ourselves.
St. Patrick’s Day commemorates not just the death of Saint Patrick (no prizes for guessing that one) who was Ireland’s most celebrated patron saint but rather his life and how he paved the way for Christianity to arrive in Ireland. He died on March 17th which is when you’ll always find St. Patrick’s Day – and this year it happens to fall on Friday.
Chi-Town’s downtown parade generally happens on the Saturday before St. Patrick’s Day – and kicks off with the dyeing of the Chicago River at 9am. You can expect around 400,000 spectators watching with awe as the river is turned emerald green. The tradition began in 1962 but it was based on an earlier moment when then-Mayor Richard J Daley authorized dumping a green dye in the river to pinpoint where waste was being illegally trashed. In 1961, Stephen Bailey, the city’s St. Patrick’s Day chairman, saw a worker in green-drenched overalls and he had the idea of dying the entire river.
It took a lot of trial and error to figure out how much dye to put into the river; the first batch made the river green for a full week! In 1966, they switched from a pollutant (yes, they were using a pollutant!) to a vegetable-based dye. The process begins at 9:15 on the morning of the parade which takes roughly 45 minutes to complete – and then we’re looking at a green river for around five hours.
If you’d like to see it all happen for yourself, we suggest you get there pretty early to get a good view. The best views can be found along the Michigan Avenue bridge’s east side, the Columbus Drive bridge’s west side or upper or lower Wacker Drive between Michigan Ave and Columbus Drive.
The parade itself begins at 12 on Saturday, March 11th and, like the river dyeing, it’s free. It’s a big, noisy, fun-filled homage to the Irish and wends its way through Grant Park on Columbus Drive. You can always count on bagpipes, drum corps, Irish dancers and more to fill out the parade’s ranks. Local dignitaries can be found on a viewing stand outside Buckingham Fountain.
You can also participate in the Leprechaun Leap – a 5k and 8k run to benefit the Greater Chicago Food Depository. It goes through Lincoln Park and you’ll find plenty of runners decked out in full green. It starts at 9:30am giving you plenty of time to see the parade later.