Boston's St. Patrick’s Day parade returned Sunday after a two-year hiatus, an event Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker called a well-earned reward after the anxiety, trauma and tragedy caused by the pandemic.
The procession stepped off in South Boston Sunday afternoon for the first time since the pandemic began. Boisterous crowds lined the sidewalks, smiling, wearing green and cheering for the first responders who kicked off the celebration. Fire trucks, ambulances and police vehicles streamed down the route, sirens blaring.
“There are smiles from ear to ear everywhere. I think people are really happy that this is back,” Baker said during the NECN broadcast of the event.
Baker said it's important to recognize and appreciate what people have gone through during the pandemic. The St. Patrick's Day parade on a 60 degree day is a “big reward that was well-earned,” he added.
Boston Mayor Michelle Wu said it was beautiful to see so many families, friends, neighbors and visitors gathered to celebrate the community and its heritage. The chief marshal was Susan McDonough, a South Boston native and veteran who was supposed to be the chief marshal in 2020.
In 2020, St. Patrick’s Day parades across the country were among the first major events cancelled as the virus hit the United States. Many returned this year, in a sign of growing hope that the worst of the coronavirus pandemic may be over.
Earlier in the day, some of the state's leading politicians also resumed the annual St. Patrick's Day breakfast in person after two years of virtual gathering.
While the COVID case numbers in Massachusetts are currently at their lowest since last summer, epidemiologists are watching coronavirus variants that are causing spikes in other countries. Parade goers saw this moment of lower risk as an opportunity to relax.
University of New Hampshire student Macy White said it felt good to be with people in public again.
"I feel like everybody's like, ready to go, and it's from COVID, everyone feels like they're back and it's really fun, and I'm really excited to be back."
Francis McGlaughlin took the train up from Bridgewater State University. He said the parade had a special energy after being canceled twice because of the pandemic.
"Obviously like people aren't wearing masks and stuff, you know a huge group together, it's a ... day off, at least. If [COVID's] not in the rear view, it's a day off."
Just off the parade route, Anthony Thompson of South Boston was selling green T shirts for $20 a piece. He said the parade's return was a sign things were returning to normal.
"It's a day of freedom for me. A day of freedom — the country is gonna change, and we need this," he said. "You know, COVID took a lot out of us."
Boston is home to one of the country’s largest Irish enclaves. Parade organizers decided during the omicron surge to march, but shorten the route, excluding Dorchester Heights.
The parade is hosted by the South Boston Allied War Veterans Council.
This story includes reporting and writing by The Associated Press and WBUR's Walter Wuthmann.