On March 18 of last year it was cold. That is the first thing that Emerson students Shawna Wright and Kelsey Foster remember about the day when, along with a of couple friends, they ventured from campus to the Broadway T stop in South Boston. The streets were packed, and they had no idea what to expect, but they were excited.
The occasion was the 106th annual St. Patrick's Day Parade, one of the top ten biggest in the United States, according to studies conducted by America Online, joining the ranks of cities such as New York, Chicago and Savannah. This year the parade will be held on Sunday, March 16, beginning at 1 p.m.
The city has a 16 percent Irish population, one of the largest in the United States, according to the same study. As the site of the first-ever St. Patrick's Day celebration in America in 1737, according to The History Channel's Web site, Boston also is one of the most popular places to celebrate the holiday.
South Boston officially began hosting the parade in 1901, and it remains a popular tradition in the area. The parade begins at the Broadway T stop on the Red Line and travels down West Broadway. From there, it follows for a block until East 4th St. and continues to 5th St. from there, it goes down Telegraph St. to Dorchester St., which leads to Andrew Square and the eventual end of the parade, though not the festivities.
David Gamsby, assistant general manager of the Boston Beer Garden, which is located along the route, said they have a full staff for the day of the parade to accommodate both the size of the crowd and the rowdiness. He said people enjoy working on that day, however, due to the atmosphere.
"Everybody's happy and merry and out to enjoy themselves," he said. "Everybody's Irish on St. Patrick's Day."
Despite the enthusiasm from the patrons, however, the St. Patrick's Day parade is not always all fun and games. In 1994, according to a New York Times article, the parade was canceled, because the state court ruled that the Irish-American Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Group of Boston could not be banned from marching in the parade. For two years prior to the ruling, the group had been denied the chance to march in the parade by the South Boston Allied War Veterans Council, which organizes the parade, but was able to march after receiving court injunctions. The following year, according to another article in the Times, a Federal judge ruled that the group did not have to be included, after the Veterans Council said that the parade would serve as a protest over the ruling of the state courts the previous year.
Freshman Sara Fiore, who has never attended the Boston parade, said she hasn't heard much about it, but the knowledge of the controversy wouldn't necessarily prevent her from attending.
"I'm not going to boycott the parade because of something they did in the past," the writing, literature and publishing major said. "It would be like spitting in the face of a holiday in the name of a human error."
But the restriction of parade participation doesn't stop there. According to an article published in the Boston Globe at the time, an antiwar veterans group, Boston Veterans for Peace, was banned from marching in the parade in 2003. It was again the result of a decision made by members of the South Boston Allied War Veterans Council.
Even this year, controversy surrounds the occasion, though it is less severe. In a rare occurrence, St. Patrick's Day falls on Palm Sunday, the first day of Holy Week. As a result, many places around the country are changing the day of their parade, said a recent article in the Boston Globe. Boston, however, is not. Organizers have said that the parade itself would not conflict with church services
Despite the tumultuous history of the event, thousands of Boston residents and visitors flock to Broadway every year, and it is unlikely that this year will be any different.
Wright, a sophomore marketing communication major, definitely recognized the motley group of characters that can be found on the streets of Southie during the celebration. She said she got her picture taken with a group of people dressed as storm troopers from Star Wars, who had Boondocks tattoos on their armor. She said that was one of the biggest surprises of the parade, though the onlookers don't know the reasons behind it.
The pair said the best thing about the celebration was the laid-back atmosphere.
"There were people sitting on corners drinking," said Wright.
They were also amused by the range of people taking part in the festivities.
"I saw 90-year-olds drinking!" said Foster, a sophomore journalism major.
Alcohol consumption is a large part of the celebration for many involved. The bars, pubs and restaurants of South Boston, are packed throughout the day.
"All the liquor stores are open and the lines are going around the block," said Wright.
Wright and Foster encourage everyone to give it a try at least once.
"It's the epitome of St. Patrick's Day things to do," said Foster. "You're in the most Irish city outside of Dublin. It's just one of those things you have to do in your life."