Catholic News Service photo
A pipe band marches past St. Patrick's Cathedral during the 253rd annual St. Patrick's Day Parade in New York March 17. 
Catholic News Service photo
A pipe band marches past St. Patrick's Cathedral during the 253rd annual St. Patrick's Day Parade in New York March 17. 
NEW YORK — New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan watched from the steps of St. Patrick's Cathedral as the city's St. Patrick's Day Parade made its way along Fifth Avenue for the 253rd year in a row.

One prominent person was absent from participating this year: Mayor Bill de Blasio. Unlike his predecessors in that office, the newly elected mayor boycotted the parade's long-standing ban on marchers carrying gay pride signs.

"I'd like to think it's a celebration of roots and family and friendship and faith and heritage and culture and song and music," the cardinal told NBC's New York affiliate. "I'd like to think it's a celebration of New York, this tremendous tapestry and this diversity all rallying around."

Each year close to a million spectators turn out to watch what organizers say is the nation's oldest and biggest St. Patrick's Day parade. About 150,000 people marched in this year's parade.

Other U.S. cities' parades may not be as old or as big, but they are still major events in places like Atlanta and Savannah, Ga., New Orleans, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Diego, all in honor of St. Patrick, the fifth-century bishop and apostle of Ireland.

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, like de Blasio, boycotted his city's parade, held May 16, citing the fact the parade also does not allow gay pride banners.

A legal challenge to Boston ban made it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court in the 1990s. The court in a 1995 ruling in Hurley vs. Irish-American, Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Group of Boston said the private, predominantly Catholic group that organized the Boston parade was within its rights to exclude a gay rights group from the parade because its message was contrary to their own.

Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny who was on a six-city tour of the United States participated in both the New York and Boston 2014 parades, and he said he was happy to do so. The parades, he said in a statement are "about our Irishness and not about sexuality."