Why Faces Were Shocked As I Marched In The St. Patrick’s Day Parade

Photo: Olena Yakobchuk / Shutterstock
Woman smiling in the rain

This isn’t what I set out to do. My goal on this special day was to get people to think, to have them consider a different way of celebrating this unique day where so many want to join one group— to be Irish. 

It wasn’t to frighten or to shock, just maybe wake up some a little.

And I did this, and more.

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Why were faces shocked when I marched on St. Patrick's Day 2022?

When you march, you wave to those cheering you on. But on St. Patrick’s Day this year, I began to notice shock, as if those who had come to see their first St. Patrick’s Day Parade in New York City, since 2019 couldn’t believe their eyes. 

Their faces showed this and it wasn’t just on a few. Amazement showed on thousands and thousands of faces. 

I've marched in other St. Patrick's Day parades, mostly for my high school which was a competitive event. We practiced long hours to keep a straight line and a straighter face. Serious business this marching, then. 

Today for me was pure joy. 

It wasn’t just the power and the majesty of the event. This year celebrating 262 years of we, Irish, bringing our culture and heritage into public view. It was our message.

Many couldn’t believe what they were seeing. They were stunned, momentarily speechless, as if they were thinking, "Is this a joke?"

Followed by a slow smile, a nod of recognition, a cheer, a thumbs up the joyful waving of their Irish flag, and a big wave, and shouts of thank you. 

This year I marched holding the banner of the "The Sober St. Patrick’s Day Foundation."

As I marched, left foot down with the drumbeat, to keep us all in unison, I felt powerful, determined. 

Our message of being sober and Irish on this day was making its way through the crowd, and I hoped to others viewing us on TV.  

Celebrators of all colors, a rainbow of all races, some maybe all Irish, most maybe having a percentage of Irish somewhere in their genes, others wanting to be Irish for the day, all eager to enjoy the music, see the flags, and the dancing.  And they were all taking in our new message.

Challenging a Family Legacy

Of course, there were some yelled curses and fists pumping in the air. Maybe even some who felt like offering us a beer or cursing because they unintentionally spilled some of theirs. 

My father, were he still alive, may have been one of these. He would take me to the parade for a little bit. 

And then to a bar, where’d he drink and curse and, sometimes, fight, as I’d look out the window knowing there was a parade outside that I wanted to see.

But New York’s finest and the barricades kept us safe and moving. Frankly, I expected more upset, more of a fuss by those who had, in the words of my father, "The curse of the Irish," a curse he knew well.

Yes, not everyone was happy to see what some undoubtedly felt was a desecration of their favorite holiday for getting drunk and high because St. Patrick’s Day has become for many a get-drunk-with-no-consequences day. 

This is evident by the carefully organized bar crawls that you can sign up for in any major city or small town. The online drinking contests. The T-shirts spouting messages celebrating drunkenness, trying to make it OK.

But, overall, the shocked looks I witnessed were quickly replaced with glee, relief even, that another message was being sent, one that was a direct counter to get drunk as early in the day as possible.

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Recognizing Your Own Courage

There are moments in our lives where we are both soft and strong, vulnerable yet resilient, where we pinch ourselves to see if this is real. Moments that we know are too important. This is how I felt this past St. Patrick’s Day.

This year was very different.

As I took my first step I said, "This one is for you dad," feeling his smile. I beamed, feeling a weight lift, a physical release in my chest, one I didn’t know I was carrying. This was so right.

I felt pride and accomplishment. 

It was raining. As we gathered before the parade, some complained that this was a shame. I countered, "We’re from a wet country, that’s why it’s green." They smiled, yeah.

The rain seemed perfect. It had been a long journey to get here.

"We’re Irish," I said. "We make hardship look easy. We sing, we dance, we march. That’s why everyone wants to be Irish!"

Laughter. Head nods. Standing up straighter we left to march for ourselves, our family, our future.

Yes, there’s a message here about dealing with adversity. But the Irish have no corner on this market of pain.

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There are 4 ways you carry your own banner in the rain.

1. Not being afraid of the rain. 

My mother would always tell me, "You’re not sugar, you won’t melt." But I wanted to be seen as sugar — sweet, delicate. 

But by age six I had already had too many experiences that attempted to crush me. Yet, I stood, teaching me that there was more to me. I’ve learned to welcome the rain that comes when you want to make a stand.

Rain means a change. It’s taught me to look at adversity and play with it, trying to turn it on its head. Welcoming the rain confirms what you know, that it won’t be easy. But you already know that. So what?

2. Wanting to say something, do something. 

Feel this energy. You can refine what it is, but know there’s something in you that wants to come out. There’s power in having a message, even if it isn’t fully formed yet.

3. Being confused about the reaction you predict you’ll probably get. 

This means you’re not sure but you want to, even if you’re concerned about possible hostility that may come as you proclaim your truth.

On some level, you know this means you’re being heard, and maybe even surprising your audience, not only with your message but also with your delivery.

4. Feeling like you want to give yourself "a pat on the back" for the courage it takes to come this far. 

Yes, courage. If it was easy, it wouldn’t be consuming so much of your emotional capital to do it. Think of all the times you’ve put off saying this or doing this, as a testimony to how hard it was for you. 

Now feel good for having confronted this. This will reinforce your positive risk-taking in your life. 

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Patricia A O'Gorman, Ph.D. is a life coach trained as a trauma and addiction psychologist, speaker, and author of 9 books on resiliency, women, and self-parenting and on the Board of Sober St. Patrick’s Day. Learn more on her website.