March 15, 2008 — Irish eyes were smiling despite a touch of damp Irish weather on the streets of Christiansted at a bang-up 39th annual St. Patrick's Day parade.
Gray clouds sporadically filled the sky, loosing a handful of drops, clearing then spreading again. After a lone unofficial float, AZ Academy Flag Drill Team marched and drilled while behind them the St. Croix Educational Complex High School Marching Barracudas shook the air with their drum rhythms, setting the proper tone for a parade.
The parade was apparently a success.
"This was the bomb," said Chiani Francis, one of the parade organizers. "We had a good turnout. Six of our schools participated this year. The music was great. Everyone had a good time."
"Uniting the Orange and Green and A'We in Between" was this year's parade theme, and bright orange face paint, hair color and clothing could be spotted here and there in the see of green skirts, shirts, bowlers, beads and ribbons. The colors' meaning might not have been on the minds of many revelers.
Green is the traditional color of the Republic of Ireland, and orange is the color of Northern Ireland's protestant British loyalists. Protestant King William of Orange deposed Catholic King James II, ushering in the Protestant era in Britain. Northern Irish Protestants commemorate William of Orange and adopt the color orange to distinguish themselves from the Catholic Irish. This is why the Irish flag has a band of white separating bands of green and orange.
The nearly four-decade tradition began on St. Patricks Day 1969 in Christiansted with an impromptu tramp behind a flatbed truck topped with revelers and a piano. In recent years the celebration grew more rowdy and boisterous, with heavy liquor consumption and Mardi Gras style flashing for beads offending those who want a more family friendly event.
Last year's parade was calmer than years past and this year the private committee that puts on the parade tried something new. The parade began at Christiansted wharf and proceeded south on Company Street, turning right at Times Square and continuing down King Street back to the wharf area.
This year Times Square was designated a family-friendly zone, with face painting, clowns, a piñata and games like musical chairs. For the one block, winin', flashing and open alcohol consumption were forbidden and two volunteers kept an eye out, cajoling parade watchers and participants into minding their manners for half a block. Francis was one of those two minders.
"People mostly were really good," she said.
"Look, there are no beer bottles in sight. This way, the kids can come to Times Square and have plenty to do, with plenty of supervision, and the adults can go be adults just up the road," Francis said.
The reaction was mostly positive. Some parade-goers groused briefly before complying. But many parents were very happy with how the concept played out.
"It'd be nice to expand this part for the kids next year," said Linda Gropp of St. Croix.
"Some folks complain about not doing what they want," said Tara Becker of St. Croix. "But parades are for kids. Kids need to be able to come what is OK for an adult isn't necessarily what you want your 10-year-old to see."
Throughout the parade, Christiansted continued to swell with new arrivals. When the final float found the end of the route in the early afternoon, the party gradually moved its way home or into restaurants and drinking holes. The children on Times Square got to take turns at the piñata until at last it burst open, signaling the end of the party with its little shower of candy.
St. Patrick's Parade winners
— Best Youth Group: Central High School Percussion;
— Best Group Troupe: "Peace to All" float by MPH Automotive;
— Best Individual Costume;" Green and Yellow Bird" by Paradise Radio 93.5 and Yellow Bird Coffee;
— Best Musical Float: "Pacify the Orange and Green";
— Best Overall: "Feral Cruzan Party Animals" by Kurt and Janelle Schindler;
— Most Unique on Wheels: "Pirates of the Parade" by the St. Croix Women's Dive Association, Coconuts Restaurant and N2 the Blue dive shop.
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