How To Celebrate St. Patrick's Day In Savannah
The celebration is usually the second largest in the country—and the biggest one in the South by far.
There’s nothing like being Irish in Savannah in March.
There’s a full schedule of family-friendly events, from the greening of the fountain to the Celtic Cross Ceremony, not to mention the St. Patrick’s Day parade itself.
“The month is a non-stop celebration of family,” said Patrick Rossiter. He should know. He’s an active member of several Irish organizations, including the Hibernian Society, the St. Patrick’s Day Parade Committee, the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick, and the Police Emerald Society, not to mention a member of an established Irish family.
According to the U.S. Census, around 10 percent of Chatham County, where Savannah is located, is Irish. That’s around 29,000 people that have Irish heritage in the area. Even though the St. Patrick’s Day celebration in Savannah truly celebrates the descendants of the town’s Irish settlers, those families join thousand of tourists and locals to allow everyone just a bit of the luck of the Irish for one day. The celebration is usually the second largest in the country and the biggest that the South has to offer.
This year, the parade is on a Friday, which guarantees a bigger event than usual.
How To Celebrate St. Patrick's Day in Savannah
It all starts a week before with the greening of the downtown fountains. The Grand Marshall of the parade, standing with family and friends, pours green dye into the iconic Forsyth Park Fountain, enough to cause the fountain’s ornate ironwork to project bright green water for days.
The event started sometime in the 1980’s when some pranksters began dyeing the fountains as a joke, and the city’s Park and Tree Commission decided to continue the tradition. Now, it’s one of the most anticipated ceremonies around the holiday, with local news broadcasting it every year.
The parade committee and Irish groups in Savannah don’t get much of a break after that. Saturday brings a family-friendly, slightly smaller parade on Tybee Island. Savannah’s residents love to come to this event, enjoying the usually mild weather and coastal breezes.
Favorites are sometimes the same as the bigger parade, though there’s a laid-back vibe that accompanies anything at the beach. There are Keystone Kops from the local Alee Temple handing out tickets to unsuspecting kids for offenses like "Lookin’ Guilty," bellydancers, and a Bahamian Junkanoo band. Of course, being Tybee, there are always pirates.
The week continues to build excitement with the Celtic Cross Ceremony and the beautiful and somber Sgt. William Jasper Green Ceremony to honor all military.
St. Patrick's Day Parade in Savannah
The Land Rush
When the day before the much-anticipated parade arrives, local families are involved in frantic plans to stake their claim on much-desired viewing spots in Savannah’s downtown squares. In years past, parade-goers camped out overnight, and the city came up with a set of rules to make the process fair for everyone. No one can be in the squares after 10:00 p.m. the night before. In fact, the Savannah police department politely asks everyone to leave as they canvass the area.
You’ll see ambitious people starting to arrive in the early morning hours, sometimes just after midnight. With their tents ready and coolers prepared, negotiations start with others standing around. Everyone wants to be ready when access is open. It’s in their benefit to talk.
“Pushing, grabbing, hitting, or any other physical actions will not be tolerated,” according to The Land Rush Rules published by the City of Savannah.
The sense of excitement rises to a fever pitch the closer it gets to time to open the squares. At 6:00 a.m. on the dot, Savannah police blow a whistle, and everyone rushes the area. Tents unfurl, stakes and tape stretch across parcels and hopefully, no one comes to blows.
When it’s all done, families are ready to set up full meals and lounging areas for the day-long festivities.
For many years, it’s been traditional to kiss some of the groups marching in the parade. Long ago, some smart young ladies started buying red lipstick and kissing the cheeks of the ROTC members of Benedictine Military School, one of the local Catholic high schools.
The boys aren’t allowed to react and teen girls have taken full advantage of that fact, grouping together to rush friends and potential dates to leave their mark.
The custom spread to the moms of those marching boys to get a picture in the middle of the parade, and then to the military. Savannah is home to Hunter Army Airfield and Fort Stewart Army Base, with much more military presence through the reserves, veterans, and Coast Guard. It isn’t uncommon to see bright red lip marks on the cheeks of those who currently and formerly served.
With a concern for safety, the practices of rushing into the marching parade aren’t allowed, although you’ll still see moms getting that picture while kissing their young men in the parade. Nothing stops a mom, after all.
Irish Families in Savannah
The day starts bright and early for all the participants, even earlier for extended families with lots of children that need to be fed and dressed. They all group near Forsyth Park wearing their Sunday best, a sea of smocked children’s clothes, pretty dresses, and green blazers. The Irish community attends in full force, happy to celebrate their roots while the city watches.
Banners mark the different organizations and families and the Rossiters are in the middle of the action. As the parade nears the river, they stop and sing a tune at Rossiter Place, a street named for their family that winds around Emmet Park.
The parade’s length might be a bit grueling for parents pulling wagons with kids, high school bands playing music, or even the observers. Even though it’s a long day, the end for the Irish families is bittersweet.
“There’s a feeling of family. We’re done, and you get nostalgic. You start thinking about your father, your mother, your grandparents, and all the years that you’ve participated. It’s all about family,” said Rossiter.
That sense of belonging calls those groups together for the day. “You see the generations that come back in for the parade. It’s a powerful draw for these kids to come back and be part of the community,” Rossiter said, “I love that we have such a strong community in Savannah that provides that.”
Whether you consider yourself from Irish descent, or you’re Irish for a day, Savannah’s celebration is a family-friendly good time that’s worth the crowds. Plan your outfit of green, buy a little red lipstick, and get in on the fun!
Leave early to get a parking spot. The parade route closes off many streets downtown. Have a plan before you leave the house, and carpool if you can. Parking places are scarce.
Event Calendar For Savannah’s 2023 St. Patrick’s Day
Greening of the Forsyth Fountain
Tybee Island’s Irish Heritage Celebration
Butler Avenue, Tybee Island
3:00 - 5:00 p.m
Celtic Cross Celebration
Emmett Park, Bay Street
Sgt. William Jasper Green Ceremony honoring all military.
Mass at Cathedral Basilica of St. John the Baptist
In 1961, the city did try to dye the Savannah River green behind City Hall. They found the water flowed too fast to do anything other than cause a few streaks in the water.
We wear green on St. Patrick’s Day because Ireland’s nickname is "The Emerald Isle." In Irish folklore, a leprechaun will pinch you if you don’t dress in something green on March 17.
Savannah is one of the few cities that allows "to-go" cups from bars. Look for a reusable cup specially designed for the celebration. It can be re-used if you go to more than one spot for green beer.
If you need some things to say to a leprechaun, check out these quotes assembled by Southern Living.
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Read the original article on Southern Living.