For more than five decades, the St. Patrick’s Day Parade has been a St. Louis tradition. Each March, the streets of downtown fill with marching bands, floats, colorful balloons, Irish dancers, clowns and thousands of marchers, and more than 250,000 people turn out to enjoy the spectacle. Last year, the pandemic led to the parade being canceled for the first time in its history. While public health concerns still do not allow for such a large gathering in 2021, people behind the scenes have been working hard to ensure that St. Louisans still can enjoy some of their favorite St. Patrick’s Day traditions in a virtual format.
The St. Patrick’s Day Parade is planned by a volunteer committee every year. This year’s chairman, James Curran Jr., says that planning for the virtual event began late in 2020. “Last year, we had to cancel the week of the parade, but we had more time to prepare this year,” he notes. “We wanted to listen to medical experts and follow the correct protocols to keep the public safe.” A scaled down version of the annual St. Patrick’s Day Run in Forest Park with 500 participants is the only non-virtual element, but interested runners also can participate remotely.
On March 13, the event will be hosted on the parade’s website, irishparade.org. Visitors can enjoy submissions from historic parade participants, including dancers, marching bands and a whole host of other colorful characters. “We wanted to celebrate the people who have partnered with us for the parade in the past,” Curran says. “Some of them, like the Green Garter Brigade, have been part of the event for decades.” Music also will be part of the celebrations, with local bands and Irish performers streaming performances. Some content will be available to view all day while other parts of the program will be released at certain times to better mirror the structure of the in-person parade.
At 3:17 p.m., Curran and other committee members will go live to share a special toast. “We hope people will raise a glass with us from wherever they are celebrating,” Curran says. “We may not be able to meet in person, but we still can find ways to come together as a community.” Other festivities include a virtual trivia night to support St. Patrick’s Center. Curran notes that supporting the nonprofit is especially important this year since the unhoused population has been so heavily impacted by COVID-19.
This year marks the St. Patrick’s Day Parade’s 52nd anniversary. While the event certainly will look different, it also will reflect on its own historic significance to the city. Curran notes that the pandemic has provided everyone with new insight into the importance of community and coming together to celebrate. “It’s the perfect time to reflect on our traditions and explore where they came from and how they’ve evolved,” he says. “We didn’t just want to say, ‘see you next year’ and look to 2022. We have the opportunity to show and teach people things they wouldn’t usually get to see watching the parade. Hopefully, we can bring good to people in these times that have been so troubling for so many.”