Saturday, March 15, 2008

St Patrick's Day 2008

The centre of San Fran glowed green on Saturday for the 156th St Patrick's Day parade.

Thousands of people lined the streets for a colourful and musical celebration of the patron saint. It was a day to wear Irish nationality with pride with many in green hats, jackets or tee-shirts, rows of green beads strung around their necks. And the green, white and orange flag fluttered all around.

The parade is the oldest and largest one for St Patrick's Day west of the Mississipi and this year's theme was Saints and Scholars and the influence they have had through education.

Over 5,000 people took part from all around California with a festive display not only of Irish culture but of the contribution made by Irish Americans to public life.

Led by police on horses, there followed the city's Irish Pipers, the San Mateo Bearcat Marching Band, members of the police, firefighters, trade unions and Irish Wolfound Rescue Trust, and of course youngsters in decorative costumes showing off their traditional dancing and baton-twirling skills. There were also colourful floats and vintage cars.

The parade wound through some of San Fran's main streets to the Civic Center Plaza, the importance of the event underscored by the presence of Mayor Gavin Newsome. At first he rode in his limo but as his car stopped near the top corner of the plaza, he jumped out to meet the crowds. People were thrilled at the unexpected opportunity to meet him as he shook hands and happily posed for photos.

Afterwards he ran over to join the front line of the firefighters to walk with them the last few yards of the parade.

With the parade over, the afternoon turned into a Family Festival with side stalls in the plaza, face painting, a beer garden and live music from an array of Irish performers.

St Patrick's Day is a celebration of the anniversary of the saint's death believed to be on 17 March, 460 AD. But how did he become a patron saint? According to the History Channel, it is thought that the 16-year-old Patrick was captured by Irish raiders from his family's wealthy estate in England.

He was taken to Ireland where he spent six years as a prisoner working as a shepherd. During that time he developed a strong Christian faith, and though he escaped back to Britain, he trained and returned to Ireland as a missionary.

Tradition also credits him with creating the Celtic cross, a cross depicting a round sun at the top.

St Patrick's Day has been observed for thousands of years. But the first parade was held in New York in 1762 by Irish soldiers serving in the English army.

Saturday's parade was organised by the United Irish Societies and, according to the San Fran Chronicle, there was an estimated turn-out of 200,000.

As we left after the parade, we walked behind a group of green tee-shirted girls.

'That was awesome!' exclaimed one girl loudly. 'I met Mayor Newsome!'

Perhaps for some San Franciscans, St Patrick's Day could happily be renamed St Gavin's Day!

Click for pics. Click on individual pics to enlarge.

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