There's just as much, if not more, fun to be had at many of America's lesser known St. Patrick's Day parades. What these second-tier (don't tell them that) St. Patty's festivals lack in size, they more than make up for in spirit, originality, and quirkiness.
Think things will be polite and subdued in this historic southern town on March 17th? Guess again. Savannah boasts some major Irish pride with a massive St. Patrick's Day that draws about 100,000 visitors to the mid-sized city of about 275,000, according to the Savannah Area Convention & Visitors Bureau.
Not only Savannah's St. Patrick's Day parade well-populated, it also happens to be old ... and fanatical. The first public procession (there were a few private forerunners) was held in 1824, and since then the city has only canceled six parades, two of those during the Civil War. So, it doesn't matter what the weather forecast looks like, you can pretty much guarantee that Savannah's 185th St. Patrick's Day parade is on.
Parade time: 10:15 am on Wednesday, March 17th
Kansas City, Missouri
Kansas City isn't particularly well known for anything other than having great barbecue and being the home of a couple of pro sports teams. However, one thing they do big in KC is St. Patty's Day. The town's fairly young parade has a reputation for being the most spirited annual display of Irish pride west of the mighty Mississippi and certainly the largest.
As it goes with many St. Patrick's Day parades, the idea for the KC march was hatched over a few happy hour drinks at a bar in 1973, according to the KC Irish Parade Committee. Although Kansas City is credited with having a robust and vibrant Irish population, the town had been without a proper parade for decades until the aforementioned happy hour. Since then, the tradition has been picking up major steam. In recent years, the parade has reportedly been drawing crowds of over 300,000 onlookers. Also worth noting, the Kansas City marchers really give it their all, because they're all competing for the grand prize: An all-expenses-paid trip to Ireland.
Parade: 11:00 am on Wednesday, March 17th
Hot Springs, Arkansas
Blink and you just might miss this parade, but don't worry, you can still slam plenty of green beers with the 20,000 attendees who are expected to show up at the "World's Shortest St. Patrick's Day Parade." In short, it's 98 feet of pure, fist-pumping, kilt wearing, bag-piping action. We've all heard the saying: Size doesn't matter. Obviously, the folks in Hot Springs have taken it to it's logical extreme.
Not only has Hot Springs' parade been officially deemed The Zaniest St. Patrick's Day Parade on Earth by the Smithsonian Magazine, it's also one of the youngest on this list. According to parade rep Paul Johnson, the history of this pint-sized parade dates back to 2003, when a group of civic-minded inhabitants were consuming "adult beverages" and discussing how there must be some way to capitalize on the fact that Hot Springs is home to the "Worlds Shortest Street in Everyday Use." Does that make it cooler or less cool? I'll leave that up to you. FYI, this year's grand marshal is none other than Bo Derek.
Parade: 6:00 pm on Wednesday, March 17th
New London, Wisconsin
Since the town was named, a portion of its Irish inhabitants have apparently resented the pro-British choice. So, to keep the town's disgruntled Irish population happy, the entire town changes its name to "New Dublin" for one week each year (March 15-20th this year). That's how serious they are about St. Patrick's day.
Aside from the standard bagpipe bands and parades, this town hosts an entire week of Irish themed revelry, including Hooligan Day, Irish Caroling, the traditional St. Patrick's Day parade , and the pièce de résistance, an incredibly awesome and corny dramatization of Irish ballad "Finnegan's Wake" (held on the 19th).
Parade: 1:00 pm on Saturday, March 20th
Unbeknowst to most Irish fanatics, the nation's second largest St. Paddy's Day throwdown takes place 100 miles west of Boston (according to Holyoke's calculations). The Holyoke Chamber of Commerce claims that over a quarter million visitors come to town to watch the city's Irish pride on display -- which includes over 25,000 official participants -- dancers, bagpipers and the like.
Holyoke's St. Patrick's Day celebrations include a well-attended 10K road race, a "Love-In" (don't really know what that consists of exactly, but it sounds interesting), an awards dinner honoring the JFK Award Winner, and of course a parade on Sunday, March 21st. The two-week celebration kicks off with mass at Holyoke's Chapel of the Holy Spirit.
Parade: Noon on Sunday, March 21st