St. Patrick died on March 17 in the year 461, which is why the charismatic Irish missionary and bishop has been remembered and celebrated on that date by groups large and small for centuries.
That includes the St. Patrick’s Association, a St. Paul nonprofit made up of volunteers who have organized and funded the city’s popular downtown parade on St. Patrick’s Day since 1967.
But Monday’s parade could be the last held on March 17 for the next few years, if city officials get their way.
Joe Spencer, Mayor Chris Coleman’s arts and culture adviser, wants future parades held on Saturdays and says that from now on the city will accept only parade applications for that day, regardless of the date.
Spencer said he’s backed by Coleman, who will march in Monday’s parade with his family. Spencer said he had hoped to move this year’s parade to a Saturday but that planning was too far along to make the switch.
However, the St. Patrick’s Association maintains that holding the parade on any day other than March 17 — except when it falls on a Sunday, as it did last year, or during Holy Week — would diminish its meaning and importance.
“St. Patrick’s Day is to many people a religious holiday, a day of revelry, a day to celebrate their Irish heritage,” said Jeff Schmidt, association vice president. “The day itself has a significance on many different levels and that’s what we’re trying to uphold and keep.”
What’s more, Schmidt said, a Saturday parade would cost the group almost double what it now spends on police, parking meters and clean up. It also would cut into the group’s surplus cash, which it awards each year to several charities; last year’s payout amounted to more than $11,000.
Spencer said a Saturday parade would draw more people and boost the popularity of what is already one of St. Paul’s biggest single-day events. That proved true each of the last few years, he said, when the parade was held on Saturday.
As for the increased cost, he said he was confident more sponsors could be found.
“We have a 20 percent increase in crowds on Saturdays,” Spencer said. “A big parade in downtown during the business day is disruptive to the normal course of business. We have much better flexibility to close streets and keep people safe on a Saturday, and you don’t have to yank kids out of school to participate.”
Spencer said he’s received “overwhelming feedback” supporting a permanent switch, and that other large St. Patrick’s Day parades in the United States already fall on Saturday. That’s true in Chicago, but New York and Savannah, Ga., hold theirs on Monday, and Boston and Philadelphia’s parades are held on Sunday.
Meanwhile, several businesses and groups said Wednesday that they favored keeping the March 17 parade date if that’s what the association wanted.
“It’s tantamount to changing the Fourth of July to a Saturday,” said Liam O’Neill, owner of Irish on Grand.
Lisa Conway, president of the Irish Music and Dance Association, which hosts two days of performances at Landmark Center in conjunction with the parade, said that while Saturday might have its advantages, “I don’t support the city imposing it on [the association] … To say we’re going to make you do this at your own expense, and on the day we choose, is just ridiculous.”
Conor Barrett, who manages the Liffey, an Irish pub on W. 7th Street, said that as a businessman he preferred a permanent Saturday parade: “It’s more family friendly that way.” But as a “100 percent, born and raised Irish resident,” he said, “St. Patrick’s Day should be held on St. Patrick’s Day.”
Ted Casper, co-owner of Shamrocks on W. 7th Street, said that Saturday was a busy day anyway and that having the celebration on St. Patrick’s Day brings in Saturday-like business. The answer, he said, is two parades.
“I’m all for more parties, more events,” he said.