This year’s celebrations were a welcome return to form for Chicago, which canceled previous St. Patrick’s Day parades due to the pandemic. Read on to learn more about the tradition, its union roots and the dye so secret only a select few know the recipe.
The union has since perfected its viridescent formula, and these days, it only dyes Chicago’s waterways for a few hours on a Saturday on or before St. Patrick’s Day, when Chicago’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade is held.
A crew of six dyes the river
The dyeing process itself is surprisingly simple: It takes just two boats, each featuring relatives of the first families to dye the river — one boat does the dumping, and the other does the mixing.
Around 40 pounds of dye and two hours later, the six-man team successfully turns the river a shade of shamrock green. And though the dye only lasts a few hours in the river, it stains the fingernails of the the small but mighty team for weeks.
The dye is vegetable-based
The recipe itself is a closely guarded secret — all we know is that it’s an orange powder that turns green in the river. Residents pin the magical color change on leprechauns, naturally.