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Growing up in New York City, I lived in the heart of the American melting pot. There seemed to be a festival or parade celebrating the city’s nationalities and ethnicities nearly every weekend. It was a great way to meet new people and experience the cultures of my hometown.

Every year on March 17, it was my family’s turn, and this kid from Queens was always amazed at how many people turned out for the St. Patrick’s Day parade and related festivities. Regardless of the weather, a sea of people adorned in green joined the parade along Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue.

It felt like everyone claimed to have at least a few drops of Irish blood in them. They marched (or just walked – the parade’s rules were very flexible), sipped green-tinged beer, and enjoyed soda bread or corned beef and cabbage for dinner. More than a few added an “O” or a “Mc” prefix to their names, if only for the day.

st patricks day traditions irish flag

As a McCann, no extra letters were needed to identify my background. My Irish Catholic family embraced many of the rituals and traditions every day – and celebrated by everyone on March 17.

Today, the festivities are no longer limited to big cities like New York. Next weekend, families and communities from coast to coast – and around the globe – will be celebrating Irish heritage, rituals, and traditions.  

Digging deeper into my roots

Although my family always celebrated St. Patrick’s Day, I didn’t explore my own heritage until the 1990s when I started reading Irish America magazine. It helped people like me fill in the historical gaps and better understand the stories of my ancestors.

My interest (and my natural Irish gregariousness) eventually led me to connect with the publication’s founder, Patricia Harty. I’m lucky to now count her as a friend and credit her for encouraging me to track down some of the McCann family who still live on the Emerald Isle.

I was surprised to learn from Patricia that, in Ireland, St. Patrick’s Day used to be a quiet religious holiday that was capped off with a simple meal of bacon or ham. It didn’t become a giant party until Irish immigrants in the United States turned it into one. Now everyone is celebrating in Ireland too!

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St. Patrick’s Day traditions & rituals

I have several St. Patrick’s traditions. I always start the day by sending out a group text message to my friends that reads, “Top O’ the mornin’ to ye!” I’ve been doing this for years, and my friends all indulge me by responding properly, “And the balance of the day to you.”

When I’m in New York, I never miss the parade (which this year is taking place on Saturday because St. Patrick’s Day falls on the Sabbath). It’s the oldest (the first one was held in 1762) and largest St. Patrick’s Day parade in the world, with 150,000 people marching and 2 million spectators.

I have so many fond memories of the parade. My favorite happened in 2022 when my wife, Marylou, and I watched it from the steps of St. Patrick’s Cathedral as a guest of Cardinal Timothy Dolan and our good friend Ed O’Brien. It’s something I’ll never forget.

The other staple of the holiday is gladly indulging in Marylou’s famous Irish soda bread. It’s her own special recipe that purposely leaves out some key ingredients. She realized that mistake the first time she made it, but the result was surprisingly so good that we encouraged her to make it the same way every year, and she has never let us down. It took some coaxing, but Marylou agreed to allow me to share the recipe with all of you. Check out her recipe here.

st patricks day traditions soda bread

Another tradition is enjoying one of my favorite meals: traditional corned beef and cabbage, also made by Marylou. That, along with the soda bread certainly tests my willpower. It’s like Thanksgiving in March!

Embracing St. Patrick’s Day traditions

As the weekend approaches, I eagerly anticipate the familiar rituals and embrace that St. Patrick’s Day is not just a day on the calendar; it is a celebration of family, friendship, and the rich tapestry of cultural diversity that makes our communities thrive.

In the spirit of the holiday, I encourage everyone to experience the festivities, whether it’s attending a local parade, savoring traditional Irish fare, or simply sharing a hearty “Top O’ the mornin’ to ye!” text with friends.

May this St. Patrick’s Day be a joyful occasion for all, fostering connections, creating lasting memories, and celebrating the unique heritage that brings us together.

All the best,

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Jim McCann is the founder, CEO, and chairman of 1-800-FLOWERS.COM, Inc. as well as a business leader, author, and philanthropist with a passion for helping people deliver smiles. Devoted to helping others, he also founded Smile Farms, a 501(c)3 organization that provides meaningful jobs in agricultural settings to young adults and adults with developmental disabilities.

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