Sunday, March 27, 2011

Happy St. Patrick's Day -- 10 days late

Did you know that the nation's second-largest St. Patrick's Day parade takes place in Manchester, NH -- and 10 days after most people celebrate the holiday?

Observing holidays on days other than the actual date is not unusual in our "Live Free or Die" state, where we are practical and frugal to a fault. For example, the Fourth of July fireworks in Portsmouth are on July 3 because it's cheaper. (I cannot explain why trick or treating is the night before Halloween, but I'm sure there's a good reason. However, I'm considering proposing it be moved to the day after -- when the candy is cheaper.)

Manchester, possibly known more for its French-Canadian culture spawned by the largest ethnic group to work in its mills years ago than for being the center of any Irish universe, discovered it could attract a larger number of traditional Irish entries if it holds its St. Patrick's Day parade more than a weekend after the holiday (and by then everyone has sobered up, too).

Speaking as a Parade Princess who knows a good parade when she sees one, I can tell you after standing for over two hours in the 36-degree weather (wind chill 18) that New Hampshire's largest city does indeed give a great parade.

There were 140 units marching along the one-mile route lined with an estimated 70,000 people. The musical entries included 5 bagpipe bands, 2 fife and drum bands, 2 drum and bugle corps and an assortment of other musical groups such as the Amoskeag Strummers Banjo Band and the Sixties Invasion.

In the less-traditionally-Irish categories were lots of beauty queens, baton twirlers and baton twirlers doing Irish step dancing, the Manch-Vegas Roller Derby team, students from two unicycle schools, a hurling team (their odd-looking sticks indicated they were not connected to a sport that might follow imbibing too many Guinness beers), and reenactors from the Revolutionary War, Civil War and World War II. (All of which also prompts me to wonder about the kinds of hobbies other people have -- and why mine are so boring in comparison.)

I was especially fond of this float from Ironworkers Local 7, which was warmly received despite all the anti-union sentiment occurring these days. Notice the green girders -- very festive, don't you think?

The Christmas parade I organize each December concludes with Santa Claus atop a fire truck. What unit do you think ended a St. Patrick's Parade in Manchester, a community with large populations of French-Canadians, those of Irish descent and one that also noted the celebration of Greek Independence Day in its parade ad?

The Sons of Italy Drum & Bugle Corps. If I hadn't felt as frozen as a popsicle by then, I think I would have laughed all the way back to the car.

To guarantee an even larger parade crowd, this year the organizers added the "Shamrock Shuffle" beforehand. Since Husband No. 1 and I arrived at the parade route on the early side after consuming our first French-Canadian breakfast at Chez Vachon (think crepes larger than a plate although we did decide against poutine -- french fries covered with cheese curd topped with spicy chicken gravy -- before noon), we got the opportunity to see the 1,000-plus runners take off from the starting point for the two-mile race and begin returning less than 10 minutes later.

We were delighted when our friend Janet Parkinson snagged a prize for her (actually our) age group but when we asked why she hadn't donned any St. Pat's attire like many of the runners (green wigs, funny hats, fake beards, etc.), she informed us that serious runners know those things slow them down. Oh.

That's Janet with me in the photo -- I think you can easily figure out which one of us runs marathons and which one knows how to dress for a parade in New Hampshire in March.

Actually, it's pretty near April, which seems like a stretch for celebrating St. Patrick's Day, don't you think? Do you believe holidays ought to be celebrated on, well, the actual holiday?

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