Savannah tells its St. Patrick's Day parade watchers to stop smooching soldiers

Spectators might have to kiss a decades-old tradition goodbye in Savannah's St. Patrick's Day parade.Women in ...

Posted: Mar 16, 2018 1:54 AM
Updated: Mar 16, 2018 1:54 AM

Spectators might have to kiss a decades-old tradition goodbye in Savannah's St. Patrick's Day parade.

Women in the crowd are known to dash out into the streets and plant a smooch on uniformed service members marching in the Georgia port city's St. Patrick's Day parade, the second-largest in the United States and third-largest in the world.

But military officials and parade organizers are hoping to curb amorous paradegoers this year.

The Savannah St. Patrick's Day Parade Committee announced last week it wants the pastime to come to a halt, something it's been attempting for years.

The practice predates the 1960s but has gotten out of hand over time, said Brian Counihan, general chairman of city's parade committee.

Kevin Larson, spokesman for nearby Fort Stewart, said that the military is just asking people to police themselves. It's not a law or a rule.

Larson said that the soldiers marching in the parade are at work. They have to maintain their professionalism because they are representing the Army.

"At the end of the day, we enjoy taking part in these events," Larson said. "But we do need people to respect our soldiers' space."

The bystanders running into the streets can also spark safety and security concerns.

"You can imagine when you have all these people marching, it causes a disturbance," Counihan said.

He said the rush interrupts the movement of floats, causes service members to lose their formation and results in huge delays.

The parade committee has tried to stop people from rushing into the streets before. Years ago, it told participants on floats not to throw beads or candy out into the crowd as a way to prevent anyone from getting hurt.

The Savannah event started more than 190 years ago. About 280 units, including bands, soldiers and floats, march through the downtown streets of Georgia's oldest city.

With this year's parade on Saturday, the committee is expecting more than 500,000 to show up, and all the hotels in the area have sold out, Counihan said.

Typically, those watching the parade can just run into the streets and plant one on any passing soldier. Larson said that military officials know the bystanders can't be forced to stop.

"There are some people who like it and some who don't," he said. "It comes down to personal preference."

He said that officials have suggested that soldiers who do not want to be kissed can say no or offer a handshake instead.

Still, the parade committee chief insists, "We are not party poopers.

"This is a large event, and we are just trying to discourage people from interfering with these units," Counihan said. "It's just a little bit dangerous, and we want everybody safe."

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