Planning a trip to London in March? Make sure you're there on St Patrick's Day, March 17th, when everyone (well, almost) claims Irish ancestry. But wherever you are around the globe, if you really are Irish you can't fail to be popular; and if you haven't got green blood in you, you still can't fail to have a fantastic time.
Some say that if you would like to buy a passport on the black market, an Irish one would be the most expensive. Those warm-hearted, open and friendly people are welcome everywhere. No wonder, then, that St Patrick's Day is celebrated in more countries around the world than any other National Holiday. On this day everybody wants to be Irish.
The first St Patrick's Day Parade was organised by the Society of the Charitable Irish in Boston in 1737. Nowadays parades are organised in most places where the Irish have been forced, or have chosen, to emigrate. Whether it's Dublin, London, New York, Toronto or Sydney, people flock to participate and to watch. Although it is a commemoration of a Christian saint, it is a day of celebration for all Irish people of all religions and creeds.
For the Irish community in London 17th March is a daylong celebration. As a religious holiday people offer prayers and attend mass. Westminster Cathedral, where one of the chapels is dedicated to St Patrick and other Saints of Ireland, is a favourite destination. Then, of course, there is time to celebrate with parades, parties, galas and balls, with the customary plentiful supply of food and drink.
In London several parades take place in areas with strong Irish connections like Willesden, Kilburn and Lewisham. It's not simply a matter of walking in public from one place to another and back again en masse. This public display of national tradition helps to strengthen community pride and self-confidence. It is also a chance to display Irish culture and heritage, as well as involve and forge links with other ethnic minorities.
The colourful parades always include live traditional Irish music, marching bands and colourful floats full of dancers and schoolchildren dancing Irish jigs. There is much waving of the Irish Tricolour flags, while shamrock and harp symbols are in abundance. The huge dogs taking part in the parades are Irish Wolfhounds, the world's largest breed of dog, known as "the gentle giant".
"Going green" is especially important on this day and everyone should make an attempt to go green in one way or another. Some dress in green, paint their faces, dye their hair or wear green wigs. Others settle for green ribbons and, of course, the customary shamrock. It's also popular on that day to add green food colouring to beer. The phrase "drowning the shamrock" comes from the custom of drinking whiskey down with a shamrock.
Ireland is known as the country of "Céad Míle Fáilte" or "a hundred thousand welcomes". A warm welcome is always guaranteed and everybody is invited to join in the fun. The Irish see themselves as one large family and on St. Patrick's Day everyone can become part of it. Don't miss your chance! Be Irish for a day!