Although we may talk about ‘green fever’ and this is the colour de rigueur in modern celebrations, it wasn’t always this way. The tradition began in 1680 thanks to the shamrocks. In fact, Saint Patrick used to wear blue, a colour that is retained on the country’s coat of arms.
When he was 16 he was captured by pirates and transported to Ireland to be sold as a slave. He managed to escape and went to France to prepare himself for the monastic life. He didn’t return to Ireland until he was 46, and devoted the rest of his days to converting the country to Christianity. He died on 17 March 461. Since then, this date has been celebrated as a religious festival, although it only officially began to be celebrated in 1903. In the 60s the law allowed the pubs to open during Saint Patrick’s Day, giving it a much more festive tone. The green of the shamrocks has been spread to hundreds of countries, mainly by those who were part of the Irish diaspora.
In Chicago they take dressing in green very literally. The Chicago River is dyed this colour during the first day of celebrations, which normally last three days. The tradition began in 1961, when a plumber accidentally dyed the river green. Since then, a boat imitates him by scattering an environmentally friendly colourant powder. With three parades during Saint Patrick’s Day, Chicago considers itself to be “the greenest city in the world”. The Shamrock corporation is responsible for illuminating the most iconic buildings and monuments of the city for one week.
One of the buildings dressed in green in honour of Saint Patrick is New York’s Empire State Building. The Big Apple’s parade is the largest organised parade in the world and normally attracts two million spectators. It marches along Fifth Avenue and lasts six hours. The second biggest is the Boston parade, where a quarter of the population has Irish blood.