If you have never been to a New Orleans St. Patrick parade, add it to your "who dat bucket list'. Your kids should also experience at least one of these unique New Orleans Irish parades while gorwing up in New Orleans.
By the way, the Irish are not the only ethnic group that celebrates their favorite Saint in March. The Italians have St. Joseph Altars and parades. The Irish and Italian even come together for some events. Even the Islenos of Canary Island heritage make an appearance. And the various parades, block parties, altars, and other celebrations go on for weeks not just on the specific feast days of the relevant patron Saints.
Check out the March Calendar of Events in New Orleans for the dates, times and details about the parades and other events.
The St. Patrick parades are a very green outing in many ways. But there is also a bit of Irish orange throw in.
The day is family-centric. Floats and crowds include all ages. Kids on the float love throwing the the crowd. Kids in the crowd love it because the float riders are so generous and there are lots of unique throws including actual toys. Before you go, think about how you will collect and carry all the stuff you catch back to your car, or you may have regrets on parade day.
They do throw beads and lots of green trinkets, but the highlight are the unique Irish parade throws. They are fun, witty, and useful!!. And many are edible!
Bring a sack (or several) because you will easily fill it with just the cabbages you catch. Leave room for the onions, garlic bulbs, lemons, an occasional apple, and - of course - potatoes.
For some reason, Ramen Noodles and Chinese soup-in-a-cup have also become traditional throws. (Can an Asian/Irish parade be far behind?)
Some riders also throw bars of Irish Spring soap and small boxes of Lucky Charms. Anything associated with anything Irish is fair game.
Many think of the St. Patrick parades as a locals-only Mardi Gras, and it's definitely has that community New Orleans vibe. It couldn't be less touristy. But apparently the local secret is getting out. I met several people from out of state at last weekend's Metairie parade, and even saw a few banners for groups from other states who make a pilgrimage every year.
The floats in the parade came one after another, without much in between and no marching bands. The main parade is followed by even more truck floats. Preceding the floats are so many marching clubs that I lost count. They walk, strut and dance the parade route - picking out members of the crowd to trade a paper flowers for a kiss.
One thing I noticed was that the crowd at the St. Patrick's Day parade was more 'dressed up' than those on Mardi Gras Day who are often just in regular boring clothes. Like the old days when Mardi Gras day costumes were the norm, anyone without a green outfit, wig, hat, dyed red beard, leprechaun outfit, or something in homage to the Irish, at the parade were an extreme minority.
The weekend parades are followed by celebrations on St. Patrick's Day itself when it falls on a weekday. There's another parade and also huge block parties in the Irish Channel where crowds gather all day long. These gatherings are often visited by those flower/kiss trading walking clubs. And dressing green is preferred. Almost any local Irish pub will also have a party, as does Pat O'Brien's in the French Quarter.
Just days after St. Patrick's Day, there an Italian marching parade honoring St. Joseph in the French Quarter and also an Italian & Irish combined parade. There are even more suburban parades, including one that combines the Irish, the Italians, and the Islenos, those St. Bernardians of Canary Island heritage.
St. Joseph, the patron saint of Italy, is also honored with elaborate altars arranged with food including the especially popular Italian shaped breads, cookies, and pastries. At some point, the delicious treats are given to visitors. And everyone to an altar gets a blessed lucky bean.
It is all pretty overwhelming coming on the heels of the Mardi Gras parade season. Sometimes I wonder - who are all these float riders? Are they all different people or do some ride in multiple parades? One thing is for sure - their generosity and spirit are what makes New Orleans so special.