After living here for more than 20 years, writer Heidi Potter has found that Louisvillians love their local traditions and local businesses, and they want to tell you all about them. Each month we will visit something that Louisvillians love and explore the reasons why.
Besides Thanksgiving, my favorite holidays are Halloween and St. Patrick’s Day. But I think I love St. Patrick’s Day the most, simply because there is zero pressure for anything. No need for a costume (just need to wear green). No need for gifts. No need for a big feast. Only requirements are alcohol, revelry, singing and general celebration. Easy peasy.
I loved St. Patrick’s Day long before I married an Irishman. I remember the St. Patrick’s Day celebrations of the mid-1990s, when I would don my hunter green work suit (it was a Le Suit from Dillard’s) that I wore when I was a recent college graduate, single and working. We would go out directly after work, sometimes that meant lunchtime, and start drinking green beer. The night always ended early, because leprechauns that start drinking too early end up falling asleep early as well.
A couple years later when I met my husband, I had never known anyone who loved St. Patrick’s Day like he and his family do. He still talks about the St. Patrick’s Day that he spent in Chicago, drinking green beer near the green river. It was one of the favorite celebrations of his life. Back home in Louisville, he would spend the entire day celebrating; and of course he had to, because St. Patrick is his patron saint.
My husband’s family marches in the St. Patrick’s Day parade, along with half of Louisville. Our “float” was our beloved rehabbed shuttle bus (decked out for University of Louisville mixed with Irish decor), and our entire family would march the stretch of Bardstown Road each year. I’ve had three newborns at that parade in all sorts of weather. I’ve kept my kids out long after that parade was over and much too late many a year. So many family milestones have occurred around that parade — new marriages, new babies, new boyfriends. Heck, our family friend had her bachelorette party on our parade float.
Everyone’s Irish on St. Patrick’s Day. That is a perfect mantra for my husband’s family, probably the most inclusive family I know. With family members adopted from China and Guatemala, all wearing their green, we really don’t care how Irish you are. I barely qualify, with only one side of my family being Irish; the Potters never minded that I was German, Cuban, French and Scottish as well.
But it’s not just our family, it’s the attitude of everyone in Louisville. The parade is hardly a parade of only full-blooded Irishmen. Running for office? You will be marching in that parade. Have any sort of a dance team? You’re marching. Just want to be a part of the group? Come on out. Red hair and ruddy complexion are optional here.
Same goes for going out on St. Patrick’s Day besides just the parade, something I have not done in a very long time. It’s hard to celebrate during the day and then make the carpool line if you catch my drift. But all bars and restaurants celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, not just the Irish ones. I’ve had a green beer while eating Mexican food before and seen someone wearing a sombrero with shamrocks, and let me tell you, it all feels the same. Everyone in Louisville feels the same celebratory spirit on this day.
It is in Louisville that I really learned what St. Patrick’s Day is all about. First, you need the traditional corned beef and cabbage, and maybe even some Irish soda bread (the one at Paul’s is really good). If you’re lucky enough to get into The Irish Rover for dinner that night, add potatoes and scotch eggs to that menu. And a good Harp or Guinness makes the meal complete. Of course, you must wear green and have a full wardrobe of options. My old trick of “I don’t need to wear green; I have green eyes” doesn’t really work around here. Or you could be like our family and print a new St. Patrick’s Day t-shirt each year for your crew to wear. I possibly have 750 green family t-shirts around the house at any given time if you would like to borrow one.
Personally, I think Louisvillians love St. Patrick’s Day so much because it is the first sign that we’ve made it through another winter. And even if winter is not really over yet, it’s another step closer to Derby. Weather ranges from snowing to blazing hot and nobody cares. They are all just happy to be together, celebrating something non-controversial and easy.
This year, the St. Patrick’s Day parade is Saturday, March 10, from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. It starts at the corner of Bardstown Road and Broadway and stretches to Mid City Mall. The epicenter of entertainment is always around O’Shea’s and Molly Malone’s. Then, you get to celebrate again on the real St. Patrick’s Day, Saturday, March 17, when you can do it all over again without the parade. It’s a two-for-one special! Sláinte, y’all!
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