All things green

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 17, 2004

BY SUE ELLEN ROSS – The Southern Yankee

Today is St. Patrick’s Day, a very popular holiday celebrated throughout the country.

When Irish immigrants came to the United States during the Great Potato Famine in the mid-1800s, their numbers were strong. They showed their strength by bonding together and forming organizations. They also staged an annual parade to honor their roots and their patron saint, who is St. Patrick, a much-revered missionary.

Many of those descendent now live in cities across America that continue to celebrate big time.

Chicago, IL is one of those cities.

My hometown of Ham-mond, Ind. is only 30 miles from Chicago. When my friends and I wanted to partake in the annual March 17 activities, we would call off work and take the South Shore commuter train to downtown Chicago. By the way, none of us are Irish.

What a trip!

Just as many people in New Orleans do not drive directly to the French Quarter for their events, neither do those living near Chicago drive directly to its downtown area. It is almost impossible to find parking, and if you do, it will cost you the equivalent of a dinner check at one of those trendy cafes.

Situated along the shores of Lake Michigan, The Windy City itself is a sight to behold. Huge buildings, the hustle and bustle of workers and shoppers are something to see. Add the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, all the pubs serving green beer, every restaurant serving corned beef and cabbage, and you have the recipe for a whole day of absolute partying.

In addition to the parade, food and beverages, there is another tradition you will find in Chicago that you won’t see anywhere else.

The city dyes the Chicago River green.

This river runs through the middle of downtown Chi-cago, from north to south.

The tradition began in 1962, when city pollution control workers used green dye to track for illegal sewage discharge. No one knows exactly who decided that using this dye on St. Patrick’s Day would be a cool thing, but that’s where it started. And has continued for many years.

That first year the tradition started, 100 lbs. of green vegetable dye was poured in the river, giving it a glow that lasted for weeks.

Currently, the city only uses only 40 lbs. of the dye, which keeps the river green for only a few hours.

No matter, the sight is something to see.

With all the Mardi Gras celebrations going on around New Orleans and in LaPlace recently, I forgot all about Chicago and the green river.

It may sound strange to someone from the south to hear that people travel from near and far, take a sick day from work, and spend quite a bit of money to partake of St. Patrick’s Day in downtown Chicago. And many of those people are not even Irish.

I guess you could compare this holiday to Fat Tuesday. The fun is comparable and the tradition comforting, just like Mardi Gras.