Logistics, weather, charity and legacy: Meet the new leader of the Syracuse St. Patrick’s Parade

Editor’s note: The follow story is from syracuse.com.

By Don Cazentre | dcazentre@nyup.com

Vince Christian remembers going to the downtown Syracuse St. Patrick’s Parade as a spectator when he was growing up.

In recent years, he became involved with the committee that organizes the annual event, including heading up its charitable arm, the St. Patrick Hunger Project, which raises money for the Food Bank of Central New York.

This year, he’ll oversee the parade for the first time as president of the Syracuse St. Patrick’s Parade Committee. He replaced longtime president Janet Higgins, who retired last May.

“It’s going to be a great day,” Christian said of the 2024 edition which steps off at noon Saturday. “The weather is looking beautiful. I hope we get a big crowd. The more the merrier.”

This is the 42nd year the parade will travel down South Salina Street from Clinton Square to West Onondaga Street near the Marriott Syracuse Downtown hotel. (The parade was cancelled in 2020 and 2021 by the Covid pandemic).

It typically attracts one of the largest crowds for any event downtown each year, unites all kinds of people under various shades of green, and helps kick off spring (even if it sometimes snows on parade day).

That’s a legacy Christian said he’s proud and happy to take on. Here are his thoughts on running the parade this year:

The logistics

You might think organizing nearly 100 floats, bands, police and fire agencies, civic groups and other marchers through the city streets would be daunting task. Christian admits it’s a big job, but one that he’s prepared for.

That’s partly because Christian, 51, is the director of logistics in the automotive division at United Radio, the East Syracuse-based electronics company. He’s also been working with the parade for many years.

He’ll start by following the motto often repeated by Higgins: “As long as everyone is marching in the same direction, I’m happy.”

“We’ll go with that because it works,” Christian said. “At least nobody’s been run over yet.”

This year, the number of marching units in the parade is slightly more than last year while still a bit less than before Covid. That’s something he’s planning to work on for next year.

“We are coming up with some new initiatives for next year’s parade,” he said. “The goal is to increase the number of floats and participation in the parade itself.”

The team

In the meantime, this year’s parade is running as usual, in part because the organizing team has a lot of experience.

“There’s a lot of people in the same jobs,” Christian said. That includes longtime volunteer “Miss Judy,” who, equipped with her whistle, helps make sure the parade keeps moving.

“We’d be lost without Miss Judy,” he said. ”We do have a great team.”

The weather

For Christian, the perfect weather for the parade would be “50 degrees and sunny with no wind.” After all, many people use the parade as an excuse to break out their Aran wool sweaters and tweed jackets.

“A few years ago, when it was 70, I may have been the only one who thought it was too warm,” he said.

So far, the forecast for Saturday seems to be close to Christian’s ideal: A high of 50, with overcast skies but no rain or snow.

As much as he like to, he recognizes the parade president has no real control over the weather. But he’s not taking chances. He plans to attend the parade day Mass and say a few prayers.

There’s also a bit of a family tradition.

“My grandmother used to set her rosary outside to help ensure good weather,” he said. “She always said ‘God won’t rain on my rosary.’ So I’ll probably ask my mother to set grandma’s rosary outside on Saturday.”

The Hunger Project

While serving as parade committee vice president in recent years, Christian also chaired the Hunger Project, which collects non-perishable food and raises thousands of dollars in cash each February and March for local food banks (It also calls attention to the great famine in Ireland of the 1840s, called in Irish An Gorta Mor).

Donations are taken online and at various collection points around Central New York. This year, Christian said, there are a record number of volunteers helping out on parade day collecting cash (they also take Venmo).

“It’s a really important, very special part of what the parade is about,” he said.

The legacy

Syracuse’s St. Patrick’s Parade was founded in the 1980s by a group led by former WSYR-TV (Channel 9) reporter Nancy Duffy. It has grown over the years to become one of the biggest events of the Syracuse annual calendar.

“I think the parade does unite our city, our community, north and south and everywhere,” Christian said. “It’s not just for the Irish. It’s for people of all nationalities and all cultures. The parade is the uniting event for us all. As they say, everybody is Irish for a day.”