There are two holidays out here on the East Coast that are a much bigger deal than they usually are anywhere else in the country, including my section of the Midwest.
The first is Columbus Day, which is celebrated where I come from with a day off from work for public employees but not much else in the way of fanfare. Even most schools are open since fall break takes precedence. When I moved out here I was actually a little shocked at the pomp that accompanies Columbus Day, since many Native American people’s relationship with the holiday is understandably very negative. But Columbus was Italian, and a large number of Italian-Americans, also understandably, take a lot of pride in that.
The second is St. Patrick’s Day. Now, obviously St. Patrick’s Day is pretty widely and loudly celebrated in this country. Heck, there are more Irish-Americans than there are people living on the Emerald Isle. The Midwest is no exception. Irish-Americans are the most populous ethnic group in Chicago, and the Chicago River is died green every year in celebration of that fact. Another great body of water-dying tradition happens in my native Indianapolis: The White River Canal, which breaks off from the White River on Indy’s near-east side and runs all the way through the northern suburbs, gets its annual dose of green the Friday before the parade.
But because of obvious settlement patterns, the Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states still have more Irish-Americans per capita than anywhere else in the country. While Boston officially boasts the longest-running St. Patrick’s Day celebration, New York City still sometimes claims it hosted the first official parade. Today, New York City definitely has the largest parade, both in terms of parade participants and attendees. Philadelphia is home to the third-longest running (or second-longest running, depending on who you talk to) parade in the United States, and Scranton’s parade, surprisingly, is another of the oldest and most well-attended.
I’m not sure Hartford’s parade rivaled any of its neighbors in terms of attendance, but it was a pretty serious affair. Drunk revelers lined the streets (of course, that’s no different than anywhere else), and the floats, bagpipers, firetrucks, etc. just kept coming for almost three hours. It’s been a while since I’ve gone to a St. Patty’s Day parade in Indy (and I’ve never been to one in Chicago) so take my conclusions with a grain of salt on this, but I’ve never seen so many public safety groups represented in one place before. Of course this tracks back to the historical makeup of most law enforcement organizations in America’s cities, but I swear every police and fire department in the Hartford metro area has an affiliated bagpipe corps. I’ve also never seen so many fife and drum corps – many of the schools and community organizations that marched had one of those.
And just when you think it’s over and it’s safe to park downtown again (my car was trapped for the duration of the parade because I unwittingly parked it near the route), the Max’s O’Hartford 5K starts up and you can’t even get out of downtown because all the streets are closed. Oh well, it was St. Patrick’s Day weekend – I didn’t need to be driving anyway.