St. Patrick’s Day: Coyote and Blue are the New Green

March 17th. St. Patrick’s Day. Green everywhere.

But what does it all mean?

There’s the undeniable argument that it stands as a day to respect what Saint Patrick did many years ago, leading the snakes out of Ireland. However, that’s not entirely accurate. According to legend (yeah, I went there), the patron saint of Ireland chased the slithering reptiles into the sea after they began attacking him during a 40-day fast he undertook on top of a hill. Now whether or not you believe in the traditional tale of St. Patrick, or if you lean more towards what National Geographic has put together based on records and accounts, one thing is clear. St. Patrick’s Day has taken on an entirely new meaning here in America. What is it now? How did we get here? (Cue ‘Days go By’ by the Talking Heads)

St. Patrick’s Day in America has really taken on a life of its own, in my estimation, as a day of Irish pride for descendants of immigrants that helped shape this country. Railroads, monuments, and even basic construction around much of the country from the east to west coast can be attributed to the accomplishments of Irish immigrants. But plenty of Americans lack any Irish in their DNA, so why are they suddenly covered in green head to toe?

Everyone has their own reasons. Maybe they’re making the most of a day off of work, perhaps they’re thrilled to be surrounded by friends, or it could be as simple as they love a parade.

I grew up in Savannah, Georgia where the locals take March 17th very serious. This is their day. St. Patrick’s Day in Savannah (depending on the year and who you ask) generally sits in the top three festivals nationwide, usually flip-flopping with Chicago and Boston for the 2-4 slots. Savannah goes all out, within their capabilities.

Forsyth Park Fountains in Savannah, GA dyed green for the St. Patrick’s Day Parade
Source: Tybee Island

Hotels in the surrounding counties generally sell out spots the summer prior, whereas downtown hotels make their paydays charging upwards of three to four times their typical value. The city dyes the fountains green, a preemptive mini parade for the newly named St. Patrick’s Day commissioner takes place, there’s a huge Irish Festival held at the convention center down by the river, Irish heritage festivals all around, and entire grids of the city shutting down all facets of business just to accommodate the influx of tourists. Savannah was shaped for tourism, and St. Patrick’s Day is its Super Bowl.

River Street in Savannah, GA on St. Patrick’s Day 2012
Source: Youtube

My best friend lived two doors down from me and, although his last name was as ridiculous as mine, on the surface you can tell he’s got some Irish in him. He was a part of the Wells clan. A generation removed from the huge sprawling family your mind generally thinks of when considering your prototypical Irish-American roots. They took St. Patrick’s Day seriously. I guess you do that when you’ve got a bonafide Monk as part of your family (or Muncle as we called him). It was an ordeal. March 16th I’d stay at his house and I’d ride into Savannah with his family to meet the other five to six factions we were rendezvousing with at our designated spot. Now if you’ve never been to Savannah on St. Patrick’s Day, you’re likely going to lack the ability to understand how crucial this part of the game was to your overall enjoyment of the day.

We’d get down there sometime between 4:00am and 6:00am on the years we were just making a mad dash to tape off part of a city square (all of Savannah’s parks are geometric squares that were constructed by the Colonials in the early days of Georgia’s first capital city). Some years we’d rotate who would go down there and sleep in a taped off area overnight, if in the event we’d had some competition the year before. Nowadays it’s different. The city has had so many issues with people camping out and taping off massive areas, they rotate the policies almost on a yearly basis of what is and isn’t acceptable. But hey, you have to do that sort of thing when the Vice President comes to town right? Yeah, Vice President Pence was there last year. Not far from the usual ground the Wells clan inhabits over near the stoic Catholic Cathedral that has become the focal point for all officials and news agencies to inhabit.

Vice President Mike Pence at the 2018 St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Savannah, GA
Source: Savannah Morning News

Generally the parade doesn’t start until sometime around 10:00am, so there’s a lot of time for families and friends to engage in fellowship and meet their neighbors for the day. It’s a great time. Despite any horror stories you might have heard, it is a kid-friendly environment and I always enjoyed it.

But where’s this going?

I’ll tell you. The St. Patrick’s Day parade in Savannah means a lot not just for the community, but the country in general. The parade showcases all of the groups you would normally think would be there: local businesses, national corporations, Shriners, Marching Bands, Horses, and celebrities. However, despite all of this, the most popular attractions are the mainstays of this parade: the service.

For those of you that aren’t familiar with Savannah, it currently houses Hunter Army Airfield and is only a hop, skip, and a jump from Fort Stewart. It’s surrounded by protected government lands in the form of historical sites that were former military installations. There’s Ft. Pulaski on Tybee Island (just about a 20 minute drive from downtown), Ft. McAllister in Richmond Hill (again, only a 20-30 minute drive from downtown), and a solid peppering of smaller military facilities that trickle westward towards Robins Air Force Base and southward towards the Naval Submarine Base at Kings Bay.

This parade affords all of these different entities to march through the streets, and the pop from the crowd is insane. We love our military in Savannah. Benedictine High School feeds a lot of young Cadets to the different branches, and has been a mainstay of the city for decades. The JROTC programs throughout the greater Savannah area and up to the installation at Georgia Southern University in Statesboro show just how much admiration the public maintains for its military.

A soldier getting the lip treatment from one of his adoring fans
Source: WTVY

The love became such a problem that mandates were handed down to try and discourage the admiration the public had. It’s been a long-standing tradition for the southern belles of Savannah to hope the parade barricades and plant a smooch on the side of a soldier with the brightest red lipstick they can find. The Wells clan generally sat a little more than halfway through the parade route, so it was always a riot to see them marching through the streets in perfect unison, matching head to toe, completely smothered in cheap red lipstick.

3rd ID Soldiers embrace community during Savannah St. Patrick’s Day Parade
Source: Wikimedia Commons

The love became such a problem that mandates were handed down to try and discourage the admiration the public had. It’s been a long-standing tradition for the southern belles of Savannah to hope the parade barricades and plant a smooch on the side of a soldier with the brightest red lipstick they can find. The Wells clan generally sat a little more than halfway through the parade route, so it was always a riot to see them marching through the streets in perfect unison, matching head to toe, completely smothered in cheap red lipstick.

It wasn’t until I got much older and actually marched in the parade a few times that I learned the impact it had on our nation’s law enforcement. Generally the various fire departments and police units that marched in the parade were saved for the end of the parade, to accommodate all of the officers on horseback. I’m sure you can figure out why. One year as I took my position with the rest of my group at our start position, I struck up a conversation with some guys wearing kilts from upstate New York. I was terribly curious as to why they were down here marching and not parading through the streets of Manhattan, given the prestige and proximity of that location. As it turns out, due to the sheer quantity of police units across the state of New York (and New England as a whole) there just isn’t enough spots for every willing law enforcement agency to have a spot in the parade. That struck me as odd. I knew that parade committees tried to keep within a designated allotment of participants to keep the parade from lasting the entire day, but turning down law enforcement agencies seemed really peculiar.

Bagpipes on Abercorn Street in Savannah, GA 2018

Turns out that they actually prefer it that way. As they told me, “We live in New York. We go up and down those streets all the time. Instead, we get to come down here to this beautiful city and get a much more positive response from the public than those that see us day to day.” Makes sense, right? Too many New Yorkers, not enough spots. They can fly down to Savannah (via its tiny airport) and see the adoration of every southerner proud to see New York LE marching their streets. It’s almost hero worship for us down there. These were the units that responded to the towers. These were the guys leading the way on a lot of issues that developed from that fateful day in September. They’re heroes to us. The city of Savannah runs a tight ship when it comes to controlling the length of the parade as well, but it’s great to see that they maintain the status of our nation’s law enforcement and military.

Let’s wrap it up already!

So I guess where I’ve been steadily chugging along this entire time is this: St. Patrick’s Day started as an Irish-Catholic celebration that still maintains those roots, but has branched out to so much more. The military love is tremendous. The love for law enforcement is spectacular. Kids still give a huge pop for fire trucks and police cars with their sirens. In all actuality, it may be the one day of the year where the nation’s guardians and the people they’re protecting come together in a time of fellowship and love in one of the most welcoming communities those professions could possibly explore. Wrap that up into a nice little leprechaun bow with people celebrating their Irish and Catholic heritage, and you get a really weird (but oddly comforting) St. Patrick’s Day experience.

Remember, it’s more than just beer. Sure, there’s plenty of that… tons of it if I’m being honest, but it’s about fellowship and embracing your fellow American on the most bizarre of holidays. I think that’s what truly encompasses our country. Embracing your fellow countryman under bizarre circumstances and acknowledging the weird path you’ve both taken to get where you are today, and having the ability to smile at it all.

I could be wrong. It could just be about the beer. You decide.

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