Holyoke's Saint Patrick's Parade began when Francis "Red" Walsh and friends about his dreams of organizing a tribute to Saint Patrick. The first Holyoke Saint Patrick's Parade began in March, 1952. Since then, the parade has grown to become the second largest Saint Patrick's Parade in the nation - second only to New York City's annual event. The parade boasts nearly 40,000 marchers, 30 floats, and 40 bands travelling the 2.6 mile route through the city and attracts more than one million viewers on the streets and in front of their television sets. The parade not only celebrates Saint Patrick, but celebrates the diversity of Holyoke and Western New England.
Other parades in Holyoke include the final Holyoke Fire Department parade on October 7, 1887. It started at the first Central Fire Station, built in 1864 on High Street and all the fire fighters in teh city participated with their equipment.
The Latino community in Holyoke holds an annual Puerto Rican Day parade in July as part of an Annual Hispanic Family Festival organized by La Familia Hispana, Inc.
The Three Kings celebration in Puerto Rico begin very early in December and do not stop on December 25th. The celebrations can continue into the middle of January. Puerto Ricans are known for their unforgettable "parrandas or trullas navideñas". A parranda is when a small group of friends gathers together to "asaltar" or surprise another friend. It's the Puerto Rican version of Christmas caroling. Most parranderos play some sort of instrument, either guitarras, tamboriles, güiro maracas, or palitos. And they all sing. A parranda tends to be more secular than religious however many of the traditional aguinaldos (Puerto Rican Christmas songs) retain the holiday spirit.
The parranderos arrive at the destination and then very quietly gather by the front door. At a signal all start playing their instruments and singing. The parrandas usually begin after 10pm in order to surprise and wake the sleeping friend. The parranderos are invited in and refreshments, music and dance follow. The parranderos are given plenty of "hints" before hand by the homeowner that he is ready to receive a parranda.
The party goes on for an hour or two then everyone, including the owners of the house, leave to parrandear some more. The group grows as they offer their parranda at several houses during that night. At the last house probably around 3 or 4 in the morning the homeowner offers the traditional chicken soup or asopao de pollo. The party is over at dawn.
Part of the holiday festivities includes cooking a pig on a spit. The pig is purchased and prepared a couple of days ahead. On the "big day" the pig is mounted on a stick and put to cook as early at 4 in the morning. At least two people must be on "watch" with the pig to turn it and make sure all goes well. Friends and relatives begin arriving later in the morning (this is an all day party.) While the pig roasts there is lots of holiday music. Older women will be in the kitchen cooking side dishes that will accompany the lechón.
Traditional Puerto Rican Christmas foods such as pasteles, lechón asado, arroz con dulce, tembleque, and coquito give Puerto Ricans a separate identity from the rest of the world.
On the evening of January 5th Puerto Rican children go outside with scissors and shoe boxes to cut grass for the camels to eat. The grass goes into shoe boxes and the boxes are placed under the beds of parents, grandparents, godparents, uncles, aunts, etc. Some time during the night Los Reyes come and while their camels eat the grass Los Reyes fill the shoe boxes to overflowing with gifts, and sweets, and many wonderful things.