Boston celebrates St. Patrick’s Day with annual parade

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Boston celebrates St. Patrick’s Day with annual parade

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By Mridhu Khanna, news correspondent

Despite the frigid temperature, crowds lined the streets in South Boston for the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade Sunday afternoon.

Organized by the South Boston Allied War Veterans Council, or SBAWVC, the parade made its way down W. Broadway Street starting at 1 p.m. and finished at the end of E. Broadway Street. Along with St. Patrick’s Day, the heavy presence of veterans and armed forces in the parade commemorated Evacuation Day.

“St. Patrick’s Day is important in terms of celebrating Irish heritage, which so many people in the Boston area lay claim to,” said David Falvey, commander of the SBAWVC, in an email to The News. “The parade also celebrates Evacuation Day, which is an underrated moment in history.” 

Attendees wore green and orange in coordination with the Irish Flag, one person carries a shamrock flag above. / Photo by Jake Wang

Evacuation Day celebrates the evacuation of British troops from Boston during the Revolutionary War. It’s a public holiday in Suffolk County, and students typically have the day off March 17 or the following Monday.  

Even with the sun out for the duration of the parade, crowds had to deal with wind chill temperatures in the low 20s. Amanda Portis, 19, is a first-year student at Boston University who said even with the cold, people still seemed to be having fun.

“I think everyone was still having a good time and there were still a lot of people,” Portis said. “It was cold and most people were bundled up to where it wasn’t really a problem.”

Cheers erupted from the crowd as a man in a purple sparkling suit danced down the street, and again as the first round of bagpipes passed by. Town of Somerville Fire and Rescue trucks rolled by, complete with a dalmation sunning itself on the roof of the firetruck.

“The fact that LA police department people and firefighters from all over were incorporated into the parade really shows the reach that this parade has,” Portis said. “It’s not just the  communities in Boston, but all over the country.”

Parade participants threw green taffy, candy, bead necklaces and t-shirts into the crowds. One float showered attendees with devil dogs and twinkies, and another with raw potatoes. Vendors sold green Boston- and St. Patrick’s Day-themed apparel along the parade route.

Players from the U.S. women’s ice hockey team stopped to take selfies with fans as they made their way down W. Broadway Street. The team won gold in the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics and donned their medals for the parade.

Parade floats and dancing troupes among other groups walked the parade route in celebration. / Photo by Jake Wang

After years of controversy surrounding the participation of OutVets, an LGBTQA+ veterans group, SBAWVC invited the organization to be part of the celebration with little media attention.

“OutVets was denied the right to march last year,” Falvey said. “I was motivated to not just be an active member of the VFW Post, but also join the council that runs the parade to right that wrong.”

Bryan Bishop, the founder and CEO of OutVets, said the new leadership of the SBAWVC can be credited with trying to create a more transparent and inclusive event. The change in attitude feels like the first concrete step in moving away from discrimination against the LGBTQA+ community, Bishop said.

“This was the first year that we actually were able to be a part of the parade and not be a spectacle,” he said. “There was no question that we were going to be there, there was no palace intrigue.”

After heavy snowfall last week, the parade route was shortened from the original plan. A press release from the Mayor’s Office credited the success of using snow routes in past parades to decreasing congestion and making the parade route easier to navigate.

“The snow route has allowed for a safe and enjoyable celebration in other years when there has been heavy snow before the parade,” Mayor Martin J. Walsh said in the press release. “I commend the Public Works Department for working diligently to ensure that Broadway will be safe and accessible by Sunday.”  

Proposals to shorten the parade in past years have led to legal battles about violations of the First Amendment, but the SBAWVC agreed to follow the shorter route days before the parade.  

“It is always unfortunate that the shortened route is used because the parade no longer passes by Dorchester Heights, which has historical significance,” Falvey said. “Either way, there are no hard feelings on either side. The parade was great and we are committed to strengthening ties with Mayor Walsh and his team.”

First-time spectator Jack Larocka from Old Lyme, Connecticut, came up for the parade with his family. After enjoying the fun atmosphere and candy thrown from floats, he said he will definitely attend next year.

“We’re just up here to have a good time. It was a great experience and a lot of fun,” Larocka said.  “It was a good mood for everybody. Just a little brisk, but with a little insulation you were just fine.”

A Massachusetts native but-first time spectator, Portis attended the event with friends from out of state. She said it was exciting to celebrate the Irish heritage which is so important to the city of Boston with them.

“It was cool showing them part of the city that I grew up going to,” Portis said. “It’s one of the biggest holidays in the area and it’s nice to see so many people gathered to go to the parade every year.”