October 28, 2009 3 Comments
Born and raised in New York, I’ve been privy to some pretty joyous celebrations. A city that never sleeps doesn’t mind closing down streets so that thousands of people can make merry. New Yorkers don’t need much of a reason, and will honour holidays as popular as Thanksgiving and as obscure as the Greater New York Good Neighbour Parade. Yet, there are some parades that seem to shake up the Big Apple by the sheer magnitude of people who attend.
This year’s St. Patrick’s Day parade in New York drew hundreds of thousands of merrymakers. This is how I remember the Big Apple during St. Patty’s. Day. People showed up for work wearing green no matter what cultural background they were from. Employees of big firms would leave the warmth of their office buildings to hightail it down to St. Patrick’s Cathedral for a chat and some lunch with strangers. There was food and merriment everywhere around the city.
So during my first year in London, as St. Patrick’s Day grew closer, I expected a celebration the likes of which Francis Scott Key himself would have had a loss for words. Yet, when I first saw London’s version of St. Patrick’s Day, I thought that I had gotten the date wrong. After all, isn’t Ireland right next door? And aren’t more than 3 percent of 7.5 million Londoners of Irish descent, according to a 2001 census?
The celebration turned out to be a dismal disappointment. If you were outside of the Trafalgar Square area, you probably would not have known that a celebration was taking place. Strangely enough, London only officially began celebrating St. Patrick’s Day in 2002; another strange fact that I couldn’t get my head around. Many of the people that I have met in London are from Ireland or have parents from Ireland. Yet, the celebration here when compared to New York City is a small affair. I actually became angry for Irish people everywhere.
This year, in Trafalgar Square and surrounding areas, about 30,00 people attended including Mayor Boris Johnson. Yet, we are forced to wonder to what extent Johnson’s appearance was politically motivated. He publicly dedicated the celebration to “peace” in order to honour a police constable and two fallen soldiers from Northern Ireland, who were killed in a bombing by the Continuity IRA. This was after cutting £50,000 from the budget for the event. In 2008, £150,000 was spent for St. Patrick’s Day when Ken Livingstone was in office.
While we can acknowledge the effort made by the city of London to honour Irish culture, many Irish people would agree that London could do much better. They don’t seem to hesitate in celebrating all things British in their capital. It is about time that the rest of the Londonites get their due. Although, with personal bias, I can say that they will never party as lively as they do in New York City.