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Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot honored the tradition by dyeing the Chicago River green over the weekend.

By Cailey Rizzo
March 15, 2021
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In a year that already has been anything but normal, Chicago surprised residents with an unexpected return to tradition for St. Patrick's Day.

In a surprise tweet over the weekend, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced that the Chicago River was turned green in honor of St. Patrick's Day. The dyeing of the river was conducted as a surprise to avoid people gathering around the riverbank to watch.

Chicago

"Although we didn't gather, we were able to honor long-standing tradition by dyeing the Chicago River green, thanks to the Chicago Journeymen Plumbers," Lightfoot wrote on Twitter. "If you're heading out today, make sure to mask up and watch your distance."

The Chicago Plumber's Union showed up in the river early Saturday morning and left trails of green dye behind their boats. Within 20 minutes, the Chicago River had been turned completely green, NBC News reported.

The traditional dyeing of the river dates back to 1962.

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Credit: Scott Olson/Getty Images

According to The Chicago Sun-Times, the tradition started because plumbers used green dye to keep track of pollution and where it seeped into the river. After a worker was coated in the green dye after a day of work, the union boss, who happened to also organize the Chicago St. Patrick's Day Parade, got the idea to dye the river green. It has flowed green every year except last year due to the pandemic.

The green river is a small sign of normalcy in otherwise quite abnormal times. For the second year in a row, Chicago canceled its St. Patrick's Day parades. Instead, organizers of the city's South Side Irish St. Patrick's Day Parade will host a "Shamrock Our Blocks" home decorating contest that people can enjoy while socially distanced.

Bars and restaurants in Chicago were sent specific reminders about COVID-19 precautions ahead of St. Patrick's Day. Indoor capacity is limited to 50% and tables must be socially distanced, with no more than six people per table.

Cailey Rizzo is a contributing writer for Travel Leisure, currently based in Brooklyn. You can find her on Twitter, Instagram, or at caileyrizzo.com.