On Friday, March 17, the whole world seemingly turns green and adopts an Irish brogue. San Antonio is no different – it hosts one of the largest St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in the country.
The famed San Antonio River, which runs through the heart of the city’s tourist-friendly downtown, is dyed green and shamrocks are scattered far and wide. Festivities abound, led primarily by the Harp and Shamrock Society of San Antonio. Their Murphy’s St. Patrick’s Day Festival features music, dancing, food, crafts and Gaelic football. The festival spans multiple days.
Murphy’s, the venerable brewers, sponsors the annual St. Patrick’s Day Festival, which takes place over two days each year at the Arneson River Theater in the La Villita Historic Arts Village. Music, food, drinks and dancing all culminate in a river barge parade along the green-for-a-day San Antonio River.
Since 1891, San Antonio has been celebrating Fiesta, another spring tradition in the city. It all started because the city was looking for a way to honor its fallen heroes and commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Battle of the Alamo.
The first event was a single parade in front of the Alamo featuring ladies in horse-drawn carriages decorated from stem to stern with colorful flowers. The celebration would come to be known as the Battle of Flowers Parade. More than 100 years later, it now takes over the entire city of San Antonio for 10 to 11 days.
This year, from April 20 through 30, over 100 separate Fiesta events will take place at dozens of sites across town.
Billed as a “party with a purpose,” Fiesta events are run by non-profits. At the end of the day, close to $300 million in revenue is generated by the over 3.5 million Fiesta attendees.
While each event is special, there are some fan favorites to know about.
Then there is the week-long celebration of food, music, and dancing known as Night in Old San Antonio. It’s held at the La Villita Historic Arts Village, the ancestral and original home of San Antonio. The menu features everything from gorditas and fajitas to egg rolls, shrimp po’boys and crepes suzettes. There’s also musical acts ranging from conjunto to Irish folk to jazz.
Fiesta began with a parade, and parades are still what Fiesta does best.
The Texas Cavaliers River Parade takes place on barges that glide down the famed San Antonio River. The aforementioned Battle of Flowers Parade is now greatly expanded. The King William Fair and Parade and Fiesta Flambeau Parade all draw people by the tens of thousands.
Families camp out for days ahead of their favorite parade to secure a prime spot along the route. These explosions of color, music and dance all embody the very best that San Antonio and South Texas have to offer. You’re going to want to put at least one of these on your Texas bucket list.
Fiesta is for people of all ages, not just adults. Kids will have a great time at the parades and are sure to have an even better time at the Fiesta Carnival. Held in the expansive parking lot of the Alamodome, the Carnival is an upsized version of a county fair, with rides, games, food, music and contests.
Like all great events, Fiesta has a large host of traditions built into it.
Pin-on medallions, sold and given away by virtually every business and group in the city, are collected, traded, and coveted by all long-time Fiesta attendees. Cascarones, hollowed out eggshells filled with confetti, are omnipresent and you will have strangers cracking these over your head; don’t take offense. Buy a dozen of your own at one of the hundreds of roadside vendors and take part in the festivities.
Fiesta also has its own royalty. King Antonio and El Rey Feo – which translates into “the ugly king,” but is really a high honor – rule over the festivities. There is even an El Rey Fido. Fiesta Queens also rule over many of the events, like the Queen of the Order of the Alamo (complete with extravagant dresses), the Queen of Soul and Miss Fiesta.
If you’re planning on hitting either San Antonio’s St. Patrick’s Day or Fiesta festivities, dress comfortably, expect to walk, wear a hat, stay hydrated, and bring plenty of cash (that’s the preferred currency at most events).