NEW YORK — March 17 is St. Patrick’s Day, and for millions of Americans of Irish descent, and others in search of a good time, that means a razzle-dazzle parade up New York’s Fifth Avenue.
The weather was bitter cold on St. Patrick’s Day, but that didn’t stop an estimated 150,000 marchers and musicians from processing up Fifth Avenue, just as they have every year since 1762. Organizers say the march is the oldest and largest parade in the world.
Many bore Irish and American flags, and the banners of their Irish or Gaelic organizations, such as police, firefighter clubs and area high schools.
Rick Burns was one of the estimated million spectators at the parade.
”We’re here because of Jackson Memorial High School, in Jackson, New Jersey," he said. "My son and Fatima’s daughter march."
When asked what was especially Irish about the day, Burns had a ready answer.
"Everybody’s a little Irish today, even if you’re not Irish," he said.
The size and scope of the event has become an American tradition - and a New York tradition.
One group of college boys was proud that the Big Apple boasts a much larger parade than the one in Dublin, Ireland’s capital.
“They probably hate us,” laughed one. “New York is everything bigger than anywhere else. It’s the best city in the world. So it does everything bigger!” said another.
Two Irish American girls, costumed and made up in the green and orange of the Irish flag, looked especially happy.
“It’s our heritage. It’s awesome. A little cold, but awesome.”
A reporter asked an Irish tourist what it means to be Irish in America.
The reply, “Irish people are happy no matter where they are. They celebrate St. Patrick’s no matter where they are, because it’s part of who we are!"
Parade organizers excluded Irish Americans who say they are gay. It’s a controversial position that prompted Guinness, the Irish beer company, to withdraw its sponsorship. Bill de Blasio, New York’s new mayor, also opted out of the march in protest.
One lady sympathized with the mayor's position.
“I don’t think they should stop them," she said. "Why just pick on one particular group. I would be for it. I think everybody should be allowed the freedom to march if they want. Why not?”
Nearby, a man hearing this disagreed.
“God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve. The Bible says seven times against it and the mayor wants to go with it!”
Controversy and celebration, music, revelry and complaint. On St. Patrick’s Day and every day in New York, it’s all part of the passing parade.