It takes nearly a year to plan the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Bay City

Bay City's 69th annual St. Patrick's Day Parade is already at the forefront of everyone's minds, buoyed by the unseasonably warm winter and the promise of an early spring from our furry friend, Punxsutawney Phil.

This year, the parade fortuitously falls on St. Patrick's Day itself, infusing an extra dose of magic into the air for the Irish community and the Irish-at-heart.

Graphic courtesy of the St. Patrick's Day Parade AssociationBehind the scenes, the parade is never far from the minds of the committee members tasked with planning the event.

The inaugural parade took place on St. Patrick's Day in 1955, marking the beginning of a tradition. More than 40 groups and organizations marched, drawing a crowd of 10,000 attendees. The success of the first parade quickly established it as a landmark event in Bay City.

Supported by a vibrant Irish community, the parade quickly evolved into the beloved full day of festivities, camaraderie, and joy that we embrace today.

In 2023, the parade boasted more than100 units of marchers, bands, floats, businesses, and organizations. The 2024 parade begins at 2 p.m. Sun., March 17. It steps off near the intersection of Park and Center avenues and heads west toward downtown, passing by businesses, homes, and thousands of spectators.

Grace Sayles – who serves as Vice President of the Bay City St. Patrick’s Day Parade Association and Co-Director of the Parade Queen Scholarship Pageant – says work on this year’s parade begin late last summer.

“I anticipate we will have a good turnout this year as well, especially with it being on St. Patrick’s Day,” says Sayles, who is a former St. Patrick’s Day Parade Queen.

The Bay City St. Patrick’s Day Parade Association begins meeting in late summer to prepare for the 2024 parade. Meeting monthly from September through January, the group transitions to weekly meetings throughout February leading up to parade day.

Graphic courtesy of the St. Patrick's Day Parade AssociationTopics at these gatherings include everything from the lineup of floats to securing funding and organizing trash cleanup.

"We discuss various sponsorship opportunities and where the floats are going to disperse once the parade is over," adds Sayles.

As the St. Patrick's Day Parade continues to grow, securing sponsorships has become crucial to continued success.

Graphic courtesy of the St. Patrick's Day Parade AssociationThe Bay City St. Patrick's Day Parade Association works nearly year-round to maintain the event's momentum and ensure it is financially feasible to continue. With sponsorships serving as the primary source of funding and entry fees helping to offset the costs, these contributions are vital in keeping the parade afloat and guaranteeing its return year after year. 

To become a sponsor, visit the Bay City St. Patrick’s Day Parade website.

In addition to the financial and logistical aspects, the Bay City St. Patrick’s Day Parade Association ensures all necessary permits are obtained in accordance with the city’s guidelines and coordinate post-parade cleanup.

“We always ask that people pick up their trash,” says Sayles. “It keeps our community and streets clean.”

While the association enjoys a hiatus during the summer months, the same cannot be said for the Queen and her court.

“We, the association, do not meet in the summer,” says Sayles, “but our Queen and court are still out visiting other parades and events throughout the summer, representing our parade and our parade association.”

Graphic courtesy of the St. Patrick's Day Parade AssociationAs the Bay City St. Patrick's Day Parade Association continues to find ways to engage the community, the association has joined forces with the Historic Masonic Temple to introduce an exciting addition to the festivities.

“We have partnered with the Masonic Temple of Bay City,” says Sayles. “We’re holding our first ever ShamRock’N Family Fun Event, that will take place on parade day.”

This family-friendly gathering promises fun for all ages.

Beginning at 11 a.m., after the raising of the Irish and American flags, you and your family can dance a jig to the live music and savor some hot cocoa alongside the Queen and her court outside the Historic Masonic Temple, 700 N. Madison Ave.

Once warmed by the cocoa, venture inside to discover movies and activities to pass the time until the parade kicks off at 2 p.m.

In keeping with parade day tradition, the ShamRock'N Family Fun Event is open to all at no cost. 

“This is all about community,” says Sayles, “we wanted to create a space where people could come together and just have fun, regardless of paying for anything.”

For further details about the ShamRock’N Family Fun Event, consult the flyer or visit the website.

Graphic courtesy of the St. Patrick's Day Parade AssociationThe work that goes into the parade, the queen’s pageant, and all the surrounding events, is all worth it in the end, Sayles says. Amidst the hustle and bustle of everyday life, the St. Patrick's Day parade offers a moment for the community to come together and revel in the festivities.

“People are so busy and have so many things going on,” says Sayles. “It’s just that time where we get to all enjoy what’s going on and come together as a community.”

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Read more articles by Sarah Sexton.

Sarah Sexton moved to Bay City from Dallas, TX in 2005. After graduating from John Glenn High School in 2007, Sarah earned her BA from Michigan State          University in Social Science with a focus on the Black American Freedom Struggle. Sarah traveled extensively throughout her early 20s and eventually made her way back to Bay City in 2018 to be closer to family. Sarah began pursuing her passion for writing in 2020 and has worked with local magazines and online media sources as well as other freelancers. When Sarah is not writing or brushing up on her photography skills, she can be found bopping around Downtown Bay City, enjoying the nightlife and activities the city offers.