Even with the might of Google at my fingertips, I can’t find anything definitive on when the first parade took place. There is vague talk of Mesopotamian rulers who liked to adorn public walls with pictures of them walking on the heads of their enemies while marching ahead of their troops. It’s not a huge leap from that to actual marches, military displays of might and conquests.
The noun itself would appear to date back to the fifteenth century from the French word parade – a show of bravado or an assembly of troops for inspection. Or there’s the Italian parate – a garish setting forth. Or the Spanish parada – a staying or stopping. Apparently the non-military meaning, that of a march or procession, was first recorded in the 1670s. Yep. Parades have been around for a while.
Everyone’s heard of the Mardi Gras in New Orleans and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade in New York, the latter around since 1924 and watched by 3 million+ TV viewers last year. But it’s Hanover that lays claim the longest parade in the world – the Hanover Schützenfest – said to be 12 kilometres long with more than 12,000 participants from all over the world, including more than 100 bands and around 70 floats and carriages. That’s a hard one to top. But I’m sure, it, too, had its humble beginnings.
The St Patrick’s Day parade in Budapest is a baby in comparison. Born in 2011, it’s been growing at a rate equal to any rambunctious five-year-old. I was the unofficial counter back at the start and my tally showed 546 people in procession. The following year, I got to count again and came in at 998 [and yes, I was too obdurate to tack on another two to break the 1000, which is probably why I was fired… temporarily]. Last year I missed it – unlike the 3500 people parading in Budapest, I was in Naples watching the Pope being set upon by a naggin of nuns who had been let out for the day to see him parade through the streets. In terms of entertainment, it ran a close second.
This year, although Müpa turned green on Thursday to mark the annual Feast Day of one of Ireland’s patron saints (yes, we have three: poor St Brigid and St Colomba barely get a mention these days), the parade itself will be on Sunday, 20th March. Kicking off at 1.30 pm from Szabadság tér, the thousands (my money is on 4172 people showing) will parade through the streets of the city and end up at Instant on Nagymező where the party will kick off in earnest.
And there will be floats. Our baby is out of nappies and into short trousers. It’s growing up. Local schools have been invited to build floats made out of at least 50% recycled materials, taking the greening of St Patrick’s Day to a whole new level. I’m not quite sure what’s in store but I’ve been hearing stories of giant shamrocks, supersized rugby balls, and all sorts. And bringing it down to individual level, there’s the shamrock-in-a-vase initiative. Just make yourself a big shamrock from recycled materials, stick it in a recycled vase, and bring it with you on the day. It’ll certainly make a change from walking the dog. [Note: Green groups will gather outside Farger café.]
Demos have their place. As do protest marches. But every now and again, it’s nice to march in celebration, just for the fun of it. And if you need an excuse to take to the streets and party, St Patrick has kindly volunteered to steer your course. See you (and your shamrock) on Sunday from 1.30 pm at Szabadság tér.
First published in the Budapest Times 18 March 2016