If you’ve never been to Savannah for St. Patrick’s Day, then it’s safe to say you’ve never really experienced St. Patrick’s Day at all! Every year around March 17th, the city population triples-- and then some! The festivities first began in 1813, when a small group of Hibernians marched on the Savannah Streets to celebrate St. Patrick-- only 80 years after the city itself was founded. Fast forward to today, and the 200 year old tradition has turned into a full scale celebration! With the record set at half a million visitors, Savannah is the second largest St. Patrick’s Day celebration in the world, only surpassed by New York City.
Though St. Patty’s day falls on the 17th of March, expect Savannah to start celebrating at least two weeks early. These 14 days are filled with cultural events, religious ceremonies, parades, music, and entertainment, so there’s surely something for everyone to enjoy.
The biggest event is, of course, the all famous St. Patrick’s Day parade. Starting every year at about 10 am, it includes over 350 units and lasts for a fun-filled three hours. On any given year, the parade includes several U.S. military divisions, local and award-winning bands, historic cars, dance troupes, clowns, floats, firetrucks, and the beautiful, world famous Budweiser Clydesdale horses. The parade winds all around the streets of the historic district, bustling with seas of green. It’s an almost overpowering force to behold, so there are a few things to keep in mind to have the best experience you can:
Early morning before the parade, it’s a fight to claim the best viewing spots. 6 am is the earliest to settle into any of the historic squares (which are ideal due to the shade from the towering oak trees) and 7 am is the earliest for street spots. Bay Street is the liveliest, so catch a spot there if you’re looking for a rowdy crowd, whereas families with small children would be best on Abercorn. Though the parade is the most widely celebrated part of the holiday, Savannah has so much more to offer.
River Street boasts a very large crowd for their own St. Patrick’s Celebration as well. With an Irish mecca of food, drink, and music, these events are most suited for those 21 and older. A curfew is generally set for those underage, and visitors must have wristbands to attend-- but don’t fret! It’s well worth the trouble. Live music including authentic Celtic entertainment can be heard resounding down the cobblestone street along with games, contests, shops, art tents and so much more to explore!
If a more child-oriented environment interests you, there are still plenty of events to choose from, like the annual Greening of the Fountain. A great crowd surrounds the beautiful fountain in Forsyth Park to watch as the city turns it green! And we’re not taking a weak green-- the water is bright enough to be seen across the park! Other celebrations for families include a smaller parade on Tybee Island, heritage dances at the Alee Temple, and Tara Feis in Emmet Park. Tara Feis includes a number of stage performances from Pipe and Drum Corps to Irish dancing to puppet shows. There are both professionals and children groups performing, so all get to participate, enjoy, and show off their talents.
Savannah also has celebrations that focus on the religious and cultural importance of the holiday as well. No matter your religion, Saint Patrick’s Day Mass held at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist is not to be missed. The opportunity to have a few quiet moments underneath the exquisite arches of the cathedral is one of life changing beauty. There are also other ceremonies, including the Celtic Cross Ceremony and the Jasper Green Ceremony.
The Celtic Cross Ceremony is a very important for those of Irish descent. After the Saint Patrick’s Day Mass, a procession is led from the cathedral to Emmet Park which is the home of the Celtic Cross monument. A wreath is laid on the stone cross, children fiddle with their Irish flags, and the crowd gathers to listen to speeches about the resiliency of the Irish spirit as bag pipes fill the air. The Jasper Green ceremony celebrates the resiliency of the Irish as well, personified in the celebration of Revolutionary War hero, Sgt. William Jasper Green. Military units and bagpipers march from Johnson square to Madison square the night before St. Patrick’s day, and the crowd follows with waving flags.
Savannah is truly the perfect destination for St. Patrick’s day, and is well worth a long trip to visit-- but if you’re coming from out of town for the festivities, there are a few crucial things to keep in mind to make your stay as smooth as possible:
First, where to stay can get tricky. Hotels book up fast, often require a three night minimum, and might up their rates for the weekend. So it’s very important to plan ahead, maybe even as early as January. It’s also best to stick to booking hotels through their main phone lines, as reservation sites may not have the authority to book on the days of the celebration. The hotels on the parade sites definitely book up the quickest, a few examples being The Hampton Inn, The East Bay Inn, Staybridge suites, and the Desoto Hilton, so if you’d like to stay in prime real estate be prepared for some booking competition. Second, always keep the traffic in mind! From the commute to Savannah or your timing to the parade, most of the streets will be blocked off, and people are everywhere! The best mode of transportation is on foot, and maybe biking-- though don’t be surprised if you must dismount and walk through a few crowds.
Last but not least, always keep your alcoholic beverages in a 16 oz. or smaller plastic/ styrofoam cup, bring your folding chairs, and your best Irish spirit! So what are you waiting for? Don your green, slather on your sunscreen, grab your cold drinks, and head on down to Savannah. Erin Go Bragh!