Everyone’s Irish at the World’s Biggest and Best St. Patrick’s Day Festivals

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“Everyone’s Irish in March.” Or at least, everyone wants to be.

Few national holidays have been co-opted and repackaged more than St. Patrick’s Day. Since its first observation several hundred years ago, it’s evolved well beyond the borders of its motherland. Today, the United States and many other countries host some of the biggest, best, and downright strangest St. Pat’s celebrations. Here are a few of our favorites from around the world.

The Most Traditional: Dublin

(Photo via Flickr)

Not surprisingly, one of the world’s largest and most traditional celebrations still takes place every year in Dublin. The event lasts a full four days and includes live music, boat races, the Irish Beer & Whiskey Festival, and a massive parade. More than 500,000 people gather along the parade route from Parnell Square to St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Nearly every major landmark throughout the city from the Natural History Museum to City Hall is decked out in bright green.

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The Greenest: Chicago

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(Photo via Flickr)

Few cities take “St. Patrick’s Day Green” more seriously than Chicago. Every year on the Saturday before March 17, the city dumps 50 pounds of eco-safe dye into the Chicago River, turning it a bright, alien green. At noon, hundreds of thousands of spectators gather to watch the three-hour parade along Columbus Drive. The tradition of dyeing began more than 50 years ago when the parade’s chairman noticed dye in the river (at the time used to investigate a sewage leak) and cleverly re-purposed the concept for the city’s annual celebration.

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The Most Consistent: Montreal

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(Photo via Flickr)

Montreal’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade could be considered the world’s most “reliable.” Since 1824 — even in the face of world-class winter storms — the festivities have persisted for nearly 200 years. Everything kicks off on the Sunday before March 17 with a huge facade of St. Patrick and continues for three hours with marching bands, bagpipers, floats, and plenty of green-costumed performers.

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The World’s Largest: New York City

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(Photo via Flickr)

New York City’s annual St. Pat’s Day festival has been running since 1762, meaning it’s technically older than the United States. Every year on March 17, more than 2 million people line Fifth Avenue to watch the six-hour parade, which curiously features no cars or floats. Instead, up to 250,000 paraders — including bagpipers, marching bands, line dancers, and costumed performers — make the march from 44th Street to 79th Street with a ceremonial stop at the city’s iconic St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

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The Most Tropical: Montserrat

Montserrat st patricks

When you think St. Patrick’s Day, you immediately think “Montserrat.” No? Well, the Caribbean island’s ties to the emerald motherland actually date back centuries. When 17th-century Irish migrants began escaping persecution in their homeland, many arrived on Montserrat. The traditions they brought over continue to this day, including the massive St. Patrick’s Day celebration every March. The island’s own St. Pat’s shindig lasts a full ten days, culminating on March 17. It’s a non-stop party that includes all of the holiday’s usual mainstays: ungodly amounts of Guinness and local beer, shamrock-themed everything, and a surprising number of leprechauns.

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The Most Intimidating: Moscow

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We kid, of course, but it’s hard to imagine Russians enjoying much of anything, let alone a kitsch-themed European holiday. Yet, every year since 1992, Moscow has celebrated St. Patrick’s Day with — what else? — a massive military parade and an unnecessary display of firepower. There are also traditional dance shows, cultural lectures, and live Irish music. And lots and lots of vodka.

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The Most Surprising: South Korea

St patricks day seoul

It’s difficult to imagine why or how the St. Patrick’s holiday might have ever taken hold in Asia. But, given the South Koreans’ love of kitsch, bling, and a damn good time, perhaps it’s not that surprising after all. Since 1992, Seoul has hosted a St. Pat’s-themed festival every year, and every year the attendance grows considerably. The entire celebration overtakes Cheonggyecheon, an impressive, seven-mile-long recreation space in the heart of the capital.

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The Most Irish (Outside of Ireland): Boston

Boston st patricks day

No one would notice if Boston decided to officially change its name to New Dublin. The city is home to more Irish descendants per square mile than anywhere else in the U.S. No Boston neighborhood is more Irish than South Boston (“Southie” to locals), home to the appropriately named South Boston St. Patrick’s Day Parade. It’s a dizzying festival that blends an amazing parade, road races, a traditional breakfast, thousands of green-clad revelers, and a veritable ocean of Guinness. In an already hard-drinking town, it’s no surprise that many businesses don’t open the following day. When two-thirds of your employees and customers are sure to be nursing a Kerouac-worthy hangover, why bother?

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