I heard the St. Patrick’s Day Parade came rolling through North Wildwood on Saturday. I imagined being a kid again and hearing the sound of the bagpipes echoing from blocks away all the way up in my bedroom on the second floor of our house. The bagpipes always meant the parade was near, and I always waited anxiously for the parade. Always. Hearing this, I’d immediately run downstairs in my green outfit and harass my parents until one of them took my two younger brothers and me to the corner of Atlantic Avenue to watch the people in the parade come down the street.
St. Patrick’s Day as a kid was always a holiday to which we looked forward. In elementary school, we would celebrate the whole day. We would wear regular green or white clothes as apposed to our usual uniforms, we would sing Irish songs and learn how to dance the Irish Jig, we would tell tales of leprechauns and dart around the classroom trying to find where they could be hiding, after we would return in the morning to little footsteps on the window sills our teacher spent time painting there after we had all left the previous day. We would make our own Irish potatoes. And then we would spend time eating them and reveling in our work. So the parade every year was sort of like the icing on the cake in my book.
Sometimes on the day of the parade, my family and I would get there early. We would walk the block away to Atlantic, each carrying our own beach chairs. When we would get to the street, we’d search for the perfect spot just off the curb and plant our chairs down. We always tried to find a spot up front, since there were crowds of people there waiting to see the same thing. But we always found the perfect spot, and when we couldn’t, our parents found it for us.
When the cheering from the crowd roared, we usually saw them coming; kids dressed up in green outfits with green hats and glasses and shamrocks all over, carrying banners and jumping and running and handing out candy, men on stilts dressed in green overalls covering their five-foot-long legs, leaning in towards us to wish us a happy St. Patrick’s Day and to shake our hands. And what made it special was that we could pick out our friends and our neighbors and others in the community, because that’s who took part in the parade every year—friends.
When the men playing the bagpipes marched through, playing slow melodies with serious faces, the crowd died down, and people gathered around a little closer and listened in silence and reverence. It was always my favorite part of the entire event. Even as a little child, I could always tell there was something special about that moment—the unified silence, the coming togetherness of the crowd, the appreciation. When the men finished playing their songs and began marching again, the crowd dispersed quietly, and we’d gather our beach chairs and stroll along back home. The ending of the bagpipes meant the parade was over, and that was okay usually, for we wanted to eat our lollipops and Irish potatoes.
It’s funny how, as you get older, St. Patrick’s Day means different things to different age groups as they pass different stages in life. As a child, it was looking forward to bagpipes and sweet candy. In high school, it was the pure satisfaction of dressing in street clothes instead of my uniform for a day. In college, it was parties thrown in celebration of the holiday, with green punch and green beer cans. But I guess no matter what age I am, or no matter how I celebrate the day, I know there is meaning and reason behind the holiday and why the general population takes time to celebrate and remember it. And as long as people still take that time to celebrate, the real meaning will be unchanged and bubbling under the surface celebrations.