Tuesday, December 5, 2023

St Patrick’s Day: Find out the history behind dyeing the Chicago River green

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Saint Patrick’s Day, a cultural and religious celebration in honour of Saint Patrick — the foremost patron saint of Ireland — is observed every year on March 17, the traditional death date of the saint. It is observed as a public holiday in Ireland, Northern Ireland, and many other countries around the world including the United States, Canada, and Australia. The celebrations of St Patrick’s Day are marked by parades, music, dance, and the wearing of green attire.

In addition to these, a city’s longstanding tradition to celebrate this holiday is to dye the Chicago River green. The tradition is believed to have been started in 1962 when the local plumbers’ union poured a small amount of green dye into the river, which turned the water a bright green colour. Since then, it has become an annual event in the city of Chicago on St. Patrick’s Day.

The dyeing of the Chicago river is usually done early morning before the St Patrick’s Day parade with the help of a boat, known as the ‘dye boat’, which travels along the river and pours a secret formula of vegetable dye into the river. The dye used to colour the river is said to be environmentally safe and is typically used in very small amounts, so it doesn’t harm the river’s ecosystem.

The colour powder is spread by two motorboats — one for dumping and another for stirring the water. A crew of six people, featuring the relatives of the first families to dye the river – the Rowans and the Butlers, dye the Chicago River with about 40 pounds of powder in two hours.

Is it environmentally friendly?

According to Reader’s Digest, while the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has deemed the dye as “completely nontoxic” and environmental groups haven’t disputed the safety of the vegetable dye, other sustainable living advocates are skeptical of the safety of this tradition. “We think that dyeing the river gives the impression that it is lifeless and artificial,” The Friends of the Chicago River Organization said in a blog post.

The colour green, in general, is strongly associated with St Patrick’s Day for several reasons. Ireland’s nickname is the ‘Emerald Isle’ due to its lush, green landscape, and green is, therefore, considered the national colour of Ireland. Also, legend has it that St Patrick used a shamrock, which is green, to explain the Holy Trinity to the people of Ireland.

Later, in the 18th century, green became associated with Irish nationalism and the country’s struggle for independence from British rule. As such, apart from dyeing the Chicago River green, people all over the world wear green clothing and accessories on this day to show their Irish pride and celebrate the holiday.

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