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Should Chicago be the U.S. headquarters for St. Patrick’s Day?

by Susan El Khoury
Feb 06, 2013


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Susan El Khoury/MEDILL

Dyeing the Chicago River green is an annual tradition in Chicago as are McDonald's Shamrock shakes.

Top U.S. Cities for St. Patrick's Day Celebrations

  • New York - one of the largest parades in terms of attendance, first organized in 1762
  • Savannah, Ga. - three-hour parade through Historic Park District
  • Boston - South Boston parade is first recorded parade staring in 1737
  • Chicago- River dying started in 1962, first parade in 1843
  • San Francisco- first city parade held in 1852
  • Dublin, Ohio- mile-long parade and events through out the city
  • Philadelphia- St. Patrick's Observance Association organized first parade in 1771

If one place knows how to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day it’s Chicago. The city itself goes all out dyeing the Chicago River green and hosting multiple parades. The city’s hospitality industry does its part by providing hundreds of bars and pubs to celebrate in.

While most Chicagoans need no convincing of the area’s superior festivities, the ShamRock Chicago Council wants the city to gain international recognition by being named the U.S. headquarters for St. Patrick’s Day.

The council, made up of prominent local business people, launched an electronic petition in January seeking that designation. The week before St. Patrick’s Day the council will present the petition to the Ireland's Consul General in Chicago, Aidan Cronin. The group says the petition is merely a goodwill gesture and even if Cronin accepts it, it has no political weight.

If Chicago officially becomes the U.S. capital of St. Patty’s Day, the city could see the benefit in terms of more visitors and higher revenue for a variety of Chicago businesses.

“One of the things that we’re hoping to do is let people who might not be from Chicago know that we really think Chicago is one of the best places in the world to be on St. Patrick’s day,” said Blair Ciecko, a spokeswoman for Celtic Chicago Inc. “If it encourages some of the people who were maybe going to visit another city on that day to come to Chicago, it would be an added bonus.”

Among the business that stand to benefit most from the city’s new title are bars and Irish pubs, many of which host St. Patrick’s Day events. At Lizzie McNeill’s in Streeterville, its location close to where the Chicago River draws large crowds of locals and out-of-town visitors.

“We do a very good business on St. Patrick’s Day. It’s our busiest day of the year,” said John Di Prima, manager of the bar.

Last year’s downtown parade on Columbus Drive drew a crowd of more than 350,000 people, according to police estimates.

Of course, Chicago is not the only place that has a large St. Patrick’s Day celebration. Other cities frequently noted as top holiday destinations include Boston, New York City, San Francisco and Philadelphia.

South Boston St. Patrick’s Day parade organizer Philip Wuschke believes Chicago’s potential title would not affect Boston’s standing as a hub for festivities.

“It’s only a title. It’s not a big deal,” said Wuschke. “It’s not a competition or a race for me at least, so I’m not worried about it drawing people away from Boston.”

The South Boston parade began in 1737 and is the first recorded parade for the holiday. The event typically attracts upwards of 600,000 spectators.

Thomas E Hachey, executive director of the Center for Irish Programs at Boston College, also is skeptical. “It’s difficult to ever see this getting established or any city encapsulating the idea of Irish headquarters--there’s too much intercity rivalry for that to be embraced by outside areas,” Hachey said.

Still, he says he is in favor of celebrating Irish heritage, and he notes that the Irish were not always a respected part of American society. Hachey sees the St. Patrick’s Day as another way of supporting ethnic diversity.

Of course, St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in Chicago and elsewhere are not without their downsides. The day has a reputation for excessive drinking, partying on the streets, property damage and violence, all which require extra police details and city funds.

For example, the South Side Irish Parade in Beverly was canceled in 2009 after a rowdy crowd of more than 300,000 people led to 54 arrests.

But three years later, the South Side Irish Parade was back. City officials are trying to make adjustments to prevent problems. This year illegal actions such as drinking within 200 feet of the parade, underage drinking and publicly relieving oneself could lead to fines of up to $1,000 jail sentence or community service.

That’s inline with ShamRock’s goal of encouraging goodwill among community members. While St. Patrick’s Day is an Irish holiday, Ciecko believes the day offers something for everyone.

“We want to spotlight how strong Irish pride is in Chicago and encourage everyone to embrace it whether they are Irish or not, it’s the idea that everybody’s Irish on St. Patrick’s Day.”

With St. Patrick’s Day falling on a weekend, businesses expect to see increased revenues. Last year the National Retail Federation estimates that consumers spent $4.6 billion on the holiday.