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Washington DC Celebrates Saint Patrick's Day Early

Thursday March 17 is Saint Patrick's Day. It's a festive occasion, observed by native Irish, emigrant Irish, and honorary Irish all around the world. (It's been said that "everyone is Irish" on Saint Patrick's Day).

It began as a Catholic holy day, but has evolved over the years into more of a secular celebration, marked by wearing green, drinking beer, and parading through cities large and small.

Washington, D.C. held its annual Saint Patrick's Day parade this past weekend - a few days early.

The people of Washington, D.C. have celebrated St. Patrick's Day privately or in small groups since the early 19th century at least - but the official parade in Washingotn began only in 1972.

"This is my third year to be in the Washington, D.C. Saint Patrick's Day parade - you may be aware that this is one of the largest parades in the United States to celebrate Irish heritage which is what we do at Saint Patrick's Day. I have a lot of fun doing this because as you can tell by the red hair, woo hoo, I'm Irish,” says a local resident.

Sometimes it's easy to tell…and sometimes, not so easy. The city's population is about two-thirds African-American, but a good many here have Irish roots.

"I did a search of my family, to find out my background and all my ethnicities and I found, a couple of years back, that both of my great grandfathers are Irish, so I'm very very excited to be a part of the festivities today," says another resident.

And she is certainly not alone. Although Washington, D.C. has never really attracted the large numbers of Irish immigrants common to East Coast cities like New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Boston, its parade has become one of the biggest and most diverse in America according to parade Chairman Ginny Kelly.

" is a way of bringing families and the communities together no matter what their ethnic background is," says Ginny Kelly.

America's earliest known public celebration of Saint Patrick's Day took place in Boston in 1737, but the largest parade has always been in New York, where up to 150,000 people march up Fifth Avenue - the fanciest stretch of pavement in Manhattan - cheered on by as many as a million spectators.

According to the most recent Government Census report, more than 30 million in the U.S. claim Irish ancestry… about 11percent of the total U.S. population and more than seven times the population of Ireland itself. And as the Irish emigrant population has grown, so have the Saint Patrick's Day celebrations.

Ireland's Ambassador to the U.S. Noel Fahey says, "It's great to be Irish on Saint Patrick's Day, it's great to be Irish during Saint Patrick's week, I'll be going to events every day between now and next Friday, it's quite something. It's not Saint Patrick's Day, it's Saint Patrick's season."