For most Americans, Christmas is the only holiday celebrated seasonally. Starting on Thanksgiving break (or the day after Halloween if you grew up in my house) Christmas parties, bar crawls, cookies, and carols are the norm for a whole month and a half.
We don’t do this for Valentine’s Day (thank God), only dress in costume on Halloween weekend, and barely celebrate Easter on Easter (if it wasn’t for the dyed eggs, my Easter Sunday resembles any other family get together). Christmas for most of us, is the only holiday “season,” unless you’re one of my friends. We are gearing up for the second seasonal holiday: St. Patrick’s Day. Ahead of us is a month and a half of celebrating, or pretending to be celebrating, that we’re Irish.
I believe I’ve referenced my reverence for the Scranton St. Patrick’s Day parade. It’s literally my favorite day of the year. My love for it borders on the obsessive, and sadly factored into my decision to attend The University of Scranton. Why am I this invested? I’m not even sure. I’ve been attending the parade with my family for years so it holds some nostalgia, and it combines everything I love about a good Saturday: day drinking, Irish music, outdoor crowds, and dressing like an ass. I go as far as to text my friends on the “______ month to parade day”, plan my outfit months in advance, and have already been studiously listening to my “Parade Practice” playlist.
The season officially starts the second weekend of February: the “one month to Parade Day” kickoff event. In college we used to have 10 AM kegs for he occasion. Now, I simply make sure I drink that Saturday afternoon, sport some green, and incorporate alot of Dropkick Murphy’s and Pogues into my jukebox selections. If you’re in Scranton, alot of the bars have specials. This one month parade tradition which started during my undergrad years has spurned the creation of the “St. Pat’s” or “Parade” season.
First up: March, 3 I’m heading to Philly for the Erin Express.
Erin Express takes place every Saturday in Philly leading up to St. Patrick’s Day (3 weekends in a row). It’s a bar crawl centered in the center city/University City regions of Philadelphia. This year, 16 bars are participating. They have specials, bands, and sometimes portions of the street in front of the bars are closed off for revelers. From 12-5:30, a series of school buses runs between the bars every fifteen minutes of so. If you’ve never drank on a school bus, you’re missing out. We haven’t figured out which school bus to takes you to which bar, but that’s part of the fun: you never know where you’ll end up.
We typically wake up around 8:00 or 9:00 and enjoy a healthy breakfast pregame at my sister’s apartment. Our first stop the past two years has been Cavanaugh’s in west Philly, because of it’s close proximity to where she lives. From there we head out to see where the buses take us. No matter what, we try to end at Bonner’s because more than any of the other bars on the route: it’s a real dive. Click the Cavanaugh’s link to see participating bars.
Scranton Parade Day, the mother of all Irish events and the day in which my year revolves, is March 10th starting at noon. My advice for Parade Day: make a weekend out of it. Erin Express is easy enough to do as a day trip if you aren’t far from Philly. Unless you live in Northeastern PA, don’t try to drive up into Scranton Saturday morning. First of all, festivities start around 7 (and most hotels won’t let you check in till 11) and second Scranton isn’t Philly. It isn’t used to the influx of people received. Parking and getting into town will be a nightmare. The festivities start early. You’ll want to be up and out by 10.
My suggestion: stay at the Clarion. It’s close enough to downtown to walk, it’s reasonably priced (and offers a parade day breakfast buffet), and is removed enough from the parade route that if you need a quick afternoon nap, you won’t be disturbed. The Hilton and Radisson, Scranton’s nicest and most centrally located hotels hike up the prices ridiculously on Parade weekend and make patrons wear wrist bands, so no sneaking that extra guest into the room.
I really have no suggestions on where to go for parade day as I’ve rinsed and repeated the same itinerary the past three years. All the bars downtown offer specials, and all of them will be fun. Much like Erin Epxress some of them will cordon off their parking lots so you can relax outside. I’ve heard particularly good things about the festivities at both Kildares and the Radisson. If you want a house party, head up Mulberry towards the University of Scranton: you’re liable to find one that allows walk ins, granted these are college kids so be prepared for a sloppy experience.
I start at Goodfellas (two dollar drafts all day: downside, no Irish music) and inevitably head over to Oscar’s, my favorite college bar. I’m trying to make it downtown this March as I haven’t actually seen the parade in 3 years. Click here for my previous Scranton article which gives a better overview of the city.
Wear green. Everyone does. The more ridiculous the better. This year I’m trying to get my friends to do an Irish Rugby Team theme: rubgy shirts, shorts, knee socks, and face paint.
St. Patrick’s Day finally fell on a Saturday! We’re celebrating by shipping up to Boston (couldn’t help myself) for a Dropkick Murphy’s concert in Lowell at UMass. I haven’t been able to do as much research on Boston as I’d like but hey, if you want to be in any city for St. Pat’s, it’s Boston. There’s my Irish trifecta for the month of March. I’m also seeing Bruce live on March 29. It may be the best March ever.
Regardless of what you plan to do, most metropolitan areas, big or small will offer some kind of revelry leading up to St. Patrick’s day. Do a little research and make it a season. I’m already planning my April gym regiment and detox.
One thing that regularly disappoints me in regards to these Irish celebrations is that very few take advantage of Ireland’s great musical tradition (I’ve been told the parade features alot of bagpipers, but once again, can’t eye witness confirm this). I’d like to think if more people were able to sing along with the bands, the music would receive more play.
If you have to learn any five songs here are my suggestions. I”ll be pushing more towards you leading up into March so keep an eye out and get ready to do some downloading. Now, if you happen to stroll into the Irish pub where every sorta knows the words, you can sorta know them too (because let’s be serious, Irish songs are best song a bit buzzed, and once buzzed the words sorta leave you).
1) Fields of Athenry: “Fields of Athenry” is a traditional Irish ballad popularized by the Dropkick Murphys. This is a tune I’ve found more than just hardcore Irish music enthusiasts know. This version is pretty upbeat, but there’s a chance you’ll hear it more in ballad form. If you really want to look like you know what you’re doing, make sure to yell “baby, baby let the free birds fly,” after the line, “where once we watched the small free birds fly.”
2) When Irish Eyes Are Smiling: A little bit outdated, and not as much an Irish drinking song as the other’s on this list, this is the quintessential Irish song I always associate with St. Patrick’s day and my Irish grandmother. It’s also a great song to sing if you help close the bar, with your arms around the shoulders of whoever is next to you.
3) Black Velvet Band: A fun bar song about a guy who get’s duped by a bar prostitute who, you guessed it, wears her hair tied up in a black velvet band. It holds some sage advice for men today, “well whenever you’re out on the liquor, beware all the pretty colleens.” We’ve all been there.
4).WIld Rover: “Wild Rover” is one of my favorite songs to sing with a crowd and it’s “no, nay, never” chorus is easy to pick up. “Wild Rover” tells the story of a guy who spends all his money on “whiskey and beer” and vows to never do so again. You should find yourself in the same situation come March, 18.
5) Galway Girl: Compared to the rest of these songs “Galway Girl” is contemporary. I’ve heard it quite a bit in bars, and not just during March. Some of you may recognize if from the movie PS I Love You, and I’m excited to just learn it’s often used in Magner’s commercials (thank you wikipedia for that fact).