People of all backgrounds across the United States and around the world are preparing to celebrate Saint Patrick's Day. In cities with even a small pool of Irish heritage, the festivities begin with the traditional parade, and although many of these cities uphold long-standing and widespread traditions, some of their celebrations have particular personality.

In each city's choice for Grand Marshal of their parade, we see the differences in style as well as our ample supply of talented, dedicated and successful Irish Americans. For those lucky enough to spend the holiday in Ireland, the St. Patrick's Festival in Dublin is the major attraction, while the global Irish celebrate in their own right.

New Yorkers have marched in honor of St. Patrick since 1762. This year, the Grand Marshal for New York's parade is NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly. Kelly was appointed police commissioner in January of 2002, and under his leadership, not only has the NYPD established its own counter-terrorism bureau, but it has also managed to drive down the crime rate by nearly 40 percent. Kelly has helped to enforce the rule of law all across the world. From 1996 to 2000 he was vice president for the Americas of Interpol. He also served as Director of the International Police Monitors in Haiti, a U.S.-led force established to monitor and end human rights abuses. For his service, he was awarded the Exceptionally Meritorious Service Commendation.

He is a veteran of the United States Marine Corps and served three years on active duty, including a combat tour in Vietnam. He retired as colonel from the Marine Corps Reserves after 30 years of service. Irish America magazine made Kelly their Irish American of the Year in 2006. In March, New York honored his service by asking this dedicated Irish American and citizen of the world to lead the biggest St. Patrick's Day Parade in the United States.

Desmond Guinness, a direct descendant of Arthur Guinness, serves as the 2010 Grand Marshal of the celebrations in Seattle. As well as being a member of the Guinness family, Desmond has worked to preserve the culture and beauty of Ireland. In 1958 he founded the Irish Georgian Society, of which he is still president, and he continues to be very active in the preservation of Irish architecture. He has written several books celebrating all types of Irish architecture that have helped to keep some of the loveliest houses and buildings in Ireland safe from the demolition ball and to preserve the character of the Irish landscape.

John L. Burton, the choice for Grand Marshal in San Francisco, has been a powerful Irish-American force for political change in California. He is Chairman of the California Democratic Party and served as a California state senator from 1996 to 2004. During his time as a state senator he fought for the rights of workers, establishing and supporting social services for the poor. He was also an important voice against tax breaks for the wealthy. After leaving the Senate, Burton formed the John Burton Foundation to continue his work to improve the quality of life for the poor and homeless of California. He has been the chair of the California Democratic Party since April 26, 2009.

The choice for Grand Marshal in Philadelphia was based on the long-standing loyalty of the honoree. Since 1955 Seamus Boyle, who was born in County Armagh, has marched in the Philadelphia St. Patrick's Day parade. In addition to this great commitment to Philadelphia's Irish spirit, he is also the national president of the Ancient Order of Hibernians and has been very active in the peace process in Northern Ireland. The parade director, Michael Bradley, says, "[Boyle] is being honored for a lifetime of service. He was long overdue for grand marshal."

Football coach Vince Dooley, who has received countless awards and a National Championship during his coaching career, will lead the St. Patrick's Day parade in Atlanta, Georgia. Dooley, who was born in Mobile, Alabama in 1931, has done the Irish-American community proud, and has been named college coach of the year by several prestigious organizations. He repeatedly won the Southeastern Conference for the University of Georgia during his 25-year coaching career and, in 1980, the National Championship.

Hot Springs, Arkansas may have the world's shortest St. Patrick's Day parade, but that doesn't mean that they stint their viewers! They might have less room - Bridge Street, where the parade is held, was named "The Shortest Street in the World" by Ripley's Believe it or Not in the 1940's - but they make up for it by cramming as many attractions as they can into the space available.  This year's parade features not only their celebrity Grand Marshal, Bo Derek, but also fireworks, Irish belly dancers, wolfhounds, a group of Elvis look-alikes, and their famous city-wide pub crawl.

Pittsburgh boasts one of the largest St. Patrick's Day parades in the United States, second only to New York in size. This year they expect over 200,000 spectators. The Grand Marshal of this huge attraction is Dorothy Flaherty Weldon, the former president of the Ladies Ancient Order of Hibernians.

The Holyoke St. Patrick's Day Parade Committee is honoring the president of Quinnipiac University, John L. Lahey, with the prestigious Ambassador's Award. This prestigious award is given each year to a person who has enhanced the relationship between the United States and Ireland. Throughout his career as an educator, Lahey has devoted his time and passion to teaching students and the general public about the historical and political consequences of the Great Hunger. In 1997 Lahey served as Grand Marshal for New York's St. Patrick's Day Parade and is vice chairman of the New York City St. Patrick's Day Parade Committee. Other recipients of the Ambassador's Award have included Frank McCourt, United States Representative Richard Neal and Irish America editor Patricia Harty.

Holyoke's 59th Grand Marshal is Acting Mayor Joseph M. McGiverin, a Holyoke native who has been involved with the parade since he was a small child.  He remembers watching the floats line up on the street in front of his house and marching as a high school student with Holyoke Catholic High School. McGiverin has long been involved with the wider community of Holyoke and has received many community service awards. He has served as a community leader as the President of the City Council and became Acting Mayor in 1991.

In Ireland, the four-day St. Patrick's Festival in Dublin offers a wide range of celebration far more extensive than just a parade. Founded in 1995, the festival includes activities for children, comedy, film, music and visual art, and cultural events. The 2010 parade theme will be Extraordinary World.

In Sydney, Australia, 100,000 Irish and honorary Irish gather at the Sydney St. Patrick's Day Parade and Family Day, and all 32 counties of Ireland are represented. The longest-running St. Patrick's Day parade in Canada takes place in Montreal, where the day has been celebrated as far back as 1759 by Irish soldiers. The holiday is also celebrated in Montserrat, New Zealand, Uruguay, Argentina and Great Britain.

Some of the best parts of these St. Patrick's Day parades are the memories and stories they inspire.

Bridget Houlihan Kennedy's new book, Chicago's South Side Irish Parade, is a great tribute to the spirit and the people that create these wonderful memories, and is also a repository for the memories themselves. Her book is a collection of pictures and stories about the resurrection and success of a neighborhood grass-roots parade in Chicago's South Side. Kennedy's book tells of how, in 1960, Chicago's South Side St. Patrick's Day Parade was incorporated into the larger downtown parade, ending what had been a neighborhood tradition, and how, nearly twenty years later, the members of that community created their own celebration and parade.

The pictures illustrate the close bonds within this community and remind the reader of the importance and depth of the traditions that we celebrate every March.