St. Patrick’s is so much bigger than one day


St. Patrick’s Day is in reality no longer a one-day festive occasion celebrated on March 17, but an almost three-week-long celebration full of parades, luncheons, dinners and parties.

On Long Island alone there will be more than two dozen parades and hundreds of events this month at Hibernian halls, bars, restaurants and community centers from western Nassau County to eastern Suffolk. And, of course, New York City’s parade up Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue, drawing a crowd of more than 500,000 and lasting more than seven hours, is the largest Irish celebration in the world.

As a proud Irish-American, I have marched in many St. Patrick’s Day parades over the years, including the city’s, where I was grand marshal 39 years ago, and Huntington’s, last Sunday, where I was privileged to march with the grand marshal, a longtime family friend, Monsignor Steve Camp.

I remember around the time I was grand marshal in New York’s parade, there was discussion about whether, going forward, younger generations would continue to support it. The answer is a definite yes. Attendance is growing every year, and new parades are actually forming elsewhere. The Wantagh parade, for instance, which only began in 2019, draws overflow throngs all along the parade route, up and down both sides of Wantagh Avenue.

This increased interest and enthusiasm is a welcome development at a time when everyday life has become so frenetic and fast-paced, and institutions and traditions are under siege from some and ignored by others. Perhaps it is this societal turbulence that moves good people to reach out for something that gives them and their families and friends a sense of stability and permanence. And I apply this to all ethnic groups and religions. While America is generally described as a melting pot, I prefer the late New York Gov. Mario Cuomo’s description of our magnificent country as a beautiful mosaic where each group maintains its uniqueness in the large stained-glass window that is America.

Parades are an expression of that uniqueness, and the mosaic. Whether it’s the Irish on St. Patrick’s Day, Italians on Columbus Day, Germans on Steuben Day, Poles on Pulaski Day, Jews on Israel’s Day of Independence, Greeks on Greek Independence Day, Puerto Ricans on Puerto Rican Day or any of the many newer people in our country celebrating their heritage, these parades honor the traditions that combine to make America such a shining city on a hill.

They also recall the travails and adversities each group had to overcome to become part of the American dream. For instance, the St. Patrick’s Day Parade represents so much more than the trivial stereotypes of green beer and leprechauns. The parade is always led up Fifth Avenue by the 69th Infantry Regiment (in which I proudly served), in recognition of this Army unit’s predominantly Irish membership protecting parade marchers from being attacked and St. Patrick’s Cathedral from being burned down by anti-Catholic nativists in the 1860s.

All races, ethnic groups and religions can point to what they have achieved and what they have overcome in their American experience. That is why celebrating our heritage is celebrating America, which has made it all possible. Happy St. Patrick’s Day, and God bless America.

Peter King is a former congressman, and a former chair of the House Committee on Homeland Security. Comments? pking@