‘Dyeing’ for the Chicago River: Saint Patrick’s Day in Chi Town

For fans of Saint Patrick’s Day, near and far, how does Chicago celebrate the holiday?


Sofia Nucifora and Alena Griffin

Chicago’s iconic green river creates speculation for the true story behind its vivid green hue.

Every year, as St. Patrick’s Day comes around, the shelves in stores are stocked to the brim with green items to commemorate the holiday and the leftover Valentine’s-themed candies and gifts are thrown out.

However, St. Patrick’s Day can be more than the eye can catch. It’s more than the fake gold coins that hold chocolate inside of them, more than that bright green that surrounds us until March 17 and more than leprechauns with rainbows. 

St. Patrick’s Day originally was a feast to honor Saint Patrick, who was the Patron Saint of Ireland. Now, the holiday isn’t quite about the history, but the people around us. 

The holiday has evolved from what it has been and people of the newer generations celebrate it differently.

Chicago celebrates the holiday by dyeing the Chicago River green and throwing the annual St. Patrick’s Day parade. This year, the festivities occurred on Saturday, March 11. It’s quite a sight to see and many people from Chicagoland and beyond go to the parades and river itself. 

To the majority of  people, the holiday is seen as an excuse to celebrate and party. 

“I don’t think anyone really considers it a religious holiday by any means,” said Charlotte Davis, a 22-year-old traveler of Irish Catholic heritage from the Boston, Mass. “[It seems like] most people come to Chicago [for Saint Patrick’s Day]. And they use it as an excuse to [party] and have fun with friends and like I have no problem with that. I partake in that.” 

Ryan Pearlstein, Davis’s friend from Los Angeles, Calif. also commented on the party culture of the holiday.

“I feel like every year we come down to the [Chicago River] and we [party] or we look at the river and take pictures,” Pearlstein said. 

Many would rather focus on celebrating rather than the holiday’s origins. People often participate in activities such as going to the city, bar hopping, or dressing up. In Chicago, lively and festive shades of green clothing can be seen from all around as well as flamboyant accessories like hats and necklaces.

Despite the green river being an attraction, many were shocked by the vibrance and pigment of the green. 

Davis said she believed that the green hue to the river was unique to Chicago. It also seemed to be that there were many rumors and myths surrounding the question on how the river is dyed green. 

“I feel like I heard something about it today that they put some chemical that comes out orange and then it becomes green,” said Leland Storewall, who was out and about with his friends searching for green themed foods and fried chicken.

Another said that it was because locals threw Mountain Dew soda in the river. It seems as though the green river is a beloved attraction that even gained its own folklore regarding the artificial look. 

However, despite the people at the parade, Central students don’t seem to have many plans. While the two cities are quite close to one another the people differ in their spirits towards the holiday. 

“I’ll probably just wear green because I am Irish, so I would like to celebrate,” said Rachel Fisher, freshman. “I used to hide these gold coins around my house for Saint Patrick’s Day.” 

However, not all students of Irish descent have plans for the holiday. For example, Sara Lacayo, freshman, did not have any plans to report. 

According to an Advocate survey sent out to all students, 52 of 88 (59.1%) respondents said they do not usually have plans for Saint Patrick’s Day. Twenty-two respondents (25%) said they usually do have plans for the holiday, and 14 said they sometimes have plans. 

Students who are doing something for Saint Patrick’s Day like to celebrate the holiday by wearing green or dressing up, eating corned beef and cabbage, partying or hanging out with friends, going to the parade in Elmhurst, Ill. and Chicago and many people said they eat soda bread to credit their Irish heritage. 

The general consensus is that most students stay in the suburbs and do not celebrate. Possibly this year, or next, students can do a little more to celebrate. Saint Patrick’s Day is coming up this Friday, March 17, and so if you enjoy drinking green rivers or seeing one, enjoy the holiday.