(Photo: Michael Dwyer, AP)
It's the time of year when U.S. cities are going green.
From parades to pub crawls, communities around the nation are gearing up for St. Patrick's day this weekend. The "Feast of St. Patrick," as March 17 is also known, is the time when Lenten restrictions on eating and drinking alcohol are lifted - usually in lieu of green-colored beer.
The 112th St. Patrick's Day parade in Boston on Sunday is expected to be attended by nearly 1 million people. But pub crawls will be going on throughout this heavily-Irish city all weekend.
At the Boston Beer Garden, bartender Tilmar Cassiano is expecting people to be ordering drinks as soon as doors open 10 a.m.
"Its usually pretty packed," Cassiano says. "People start drinking early in the day and they are here all day and all night. It's going to be on a Sunday so that means the crowd will be even bigger."
But to many, St. Patrick's Day is not just about drinking, it's about a reflecting on heritage.
"My parents immigrated in the '30s, and I am the result," says Peter Coyle, 72, of Yonkers, who is helping out the St. Patrick's Day Parade and Celebration Committee in New York City. "This is a time to celebrate. The Irish built up America, that gets celebrated, our Catholic faith, that gets celebrated. Our culture and our music, just like any other parade you want to show off your best - and that's what we do."
Colye is helping to plan the New York City St. Patrick's Day parade, which considers itself the USA's "oldest, biggest, and best in the world." Hailing back to the 1700s, the parade lasts about 4-5 hours.
"It's a major holiday on the ethnic side," Coyle says. "It's a day to trace your background and be proud of it."
Local websites advise arriving at dawn to stake out a prime viewing spot, as crowds of up to 2 million are expected to gather for the festivities, where bagpipes and marching bands abound.
For less crowded family-friendly fare, consider St. Patrick's Weekend Irish New York tour, also held on Saturday. Wear comfortable shoes, though, as the two-hour walking tour will take you through many of New York's historic sites, such as Five Points, Tammany Hall, Al Smith's home and the first Catholic church in the city.
•In the Windy City, the Chicago River will be dyed green in St. Patty's Day spirit.
•A parade in Hot Springs, Ark., will feature oddities such as the world's shortest wedding ceremony, an "original kiss" competition and Dr. Albert Habeeb -- the self-proclaimed "World's Oldest Leprechaun."
•In O'Neill, Neb., considered the official Irish capital of Nebraska, celebrations will include a hypnotist, a fish fry, a Blarney Stone, and a "Shamrock intersection."
Irish or not, be sure to wear green no matter where you land this St. Patrick's Day - no one likes to be pinched.
Contributing: Natalie DiBlasio