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Partying all around the world on St Patrick's Day

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“One's destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” Henry Miller.

Tomorrow in Enterprise, Alabama one person of Irish descent will march from the town's court house to the boll weevil museum and back (don't ask) carrying a pot of gold and reciting limericks.

No, this is not some new form of torture.

Nope, I promise. Apparently in 1993, the people of Enterprise (those with Irish heritage, anyway) actually chose to start this.

What's this? It's only the smallest annual St Patrick's Day parade people of Irish heritage in the town actually compete to be part (the only part) of it.

At least their parade only lasts about ten minutes!

Ahhhh St. Patrick's Day.

Which brings me to Rock Fever this week: where and what is St Patrick's Day and why do people celebrate it around the world?

Well let's start with Ireland. For those who live in Ireland, tomorrow is a national holiday celebrated with everything from parades to people piled high in the pub.

But they're not alone (this does not include those calling-in sick! That is NOT a national holiday). Ireland is joined by Montserrat. Yep, outside of Ireland this Caribbean island is the only other place to call St Patrick's Day a national holiday. Montserrat celebrates with a week of festivities that include a freedom hike, a kite festival, and church services.

Yes, church services. While many believe St Patrick's Day is a celebration for green beer, the day did actually have a saintly birth. Yes, the day recognises St Patrick, the Patron Saint of Ireland, who converted Irish pagans to Christianity in the 5th century AD.

Patrick, however, was originally from Britain (his parents, Calpurnius and Conchessa, were Roman citizens living in either Scotland or Wales, depending on his stories). When he was about 16 he was captured by Irish raiders and was imprisoned in Ireland for six years. After six years he claimed to have heard the voice of God telling him to leave Ireland. He escaped, marched 200 miles, jumped on a boat, returned to Britain, entered the Church, trained and returned to Ireland.

To help convert the Irish to Christianity, legend has it that St Patrick used the native shamrock to represent the Holy Trinity and incorporated other Irish symbols such as the bonfire (the Irish had used these to honour their gods) and the sun. To celebrate his accomplishments, St Patrick's Day was born on the day of his death, March 17.

While it may have started with religious connotation and still has some it has also evolved into a general celebration of everything green, shamrock and gold. Oh, yeah and Irish too.

And while Alabama might have the smallest St Patrick's Day parade to recognise this saint, New York is home to the largest! Of course! Who knows how to celebrate a person or an event like New Yorkers? No one.

The first parade in New York was on March 17, 1762, 14 years before the Declaration of Independence. It now starts on 44th Street and marches up 5th Avenue, past St Patrick's Cathedral at 50th Street and then finishes at the Metropolitan Museum at 83rd Street. The celebrations in Boston (one of the “most Irish cities” according to them) are no slouch either with a parade in South Boston (among other events) on Sunday!

Canadians are also not far behind in their celebration of St Patrick's Day. No, indeed in Montreal, they started in 1759 with celebratory dinners (far more civilised) and meandered up to an annual parade on March 17, 1824.

Of course on the other side of Canada, Vancouver will be hosting an entire fest to overlap St Patrick's Day this year! Yes, from March 16 to the 20, this city will be the focus of some 60-plus concerts, festivals and workshops based on the Celtic culture. The St Patrick's parade, though? Well that won't be until Sunday! So you've got time to jump from Montreal to Vancouver if the Irish spirit grips you!

That still won't be enough time to get you to Australia, however. In Sydney, St Patrick's Day has been celebrated since March 17, 1810 when the then governor, Lachlan Macquarie, declared the official day of celebration for the Irish and those of Irish heritage. Now, more than 200 years since it started, the city is host to the second largest parade in the world (after New York's of course).

In Brisbane, however, I'm afraid we've already missed their parade which is held on the Saturday BEFORE St Patrick's Day (go figure). Instead tomorrow will be celebrated with all-day music and “hearty” Irish food at the Celtic Koala Club. Sounds like a plan to me.

So where else is St Patrick's Day celebrated? I mean besides every Irish pub around the world? How about Dubai!

Yes, in Dubai there is actually an Irish village (I mean why wouldn't there be, really?). And starting from tomorrow the village will host two days of celebration with food and drink. Who knew? Well maybe the people who were invited to the Dubai Irish Society Ball. Yep. One Irish village is not enough for Dubai....there are two and tomorrow (Friday) there will be a ball at the Dubai Marina.

Unfortunately, other Irish celebrations that usually attract dignitaries from Ireland will be muted and may not exist this year thanks to economic woes and concerns over political protests. While 22 Irish representatives travelled around the world last year for fancy balls hosted in everywhere from Russia to China, only nine will this year, according to Global Post. And parades that normally took place in these two countries will also be muted or cancelled (no marching in Shanghai this year) to ensure they do not become a chance to fight the government.

One Irish Government official, however, will definitely be travelling: the Irish Taoiseach (prime minister). He will be heading to the White House in Washington DC where he will be received in an annual lunch hosted by the speaker of the US House and is attended by the President and senior members of the House and Senate. In fact, the Irish Taoiseach is the only head of government given automatic access to the White House on one day of the year March 17. This year, Enda Kenny, better put that access to use as Ireland struggles with its economy.

Which brings us to next week's column and what could be worse than an economy already struggling? One that has been wiped out by earthquakes and tsunami waves. Poor Japan has suffered and yet visiting might not be the right move. What's the best way to help? Find out next week.

Until then, Slán go fóill.

Party people: Fun and enjoyment during the St Patrick's Day parade in Dublin, Ireland, last year.
A kayaker paddles on the Chicago River after the Chicago River was dyed green ahead of the St. Patrick's Day parade in Chicago. (AP Photo/Paul Beaty)

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Published March 16, 2011 at 9:00 am (Updated March 15, 2011 at 5:16 pm)

Partying all around the world on St Patrick's Day

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