NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — An estimated 2 million people packed the streets Tuesday for the 254th St. Patrick’s Day Parade on Fifth Avenue.

The parade, which dates back to 1762, marched past St. Patrick’s Cathedral at 50th Street and ended at 79th Street. An estimated 250,000 people took part, with Cardinal Timothy Dolan leading the procession as grand marshal.

EXTRA: St. Patrick’s Day Parade Guide

“I’m as radiant as the sun, so thanks be to God for the honor and the joy,” Dolan said.

“The parade represents our faith, our heritage and our culture,” John Dunleavy, the parade’s chairman, told WCBS 880’s Sean Adams.

The event included bands from all over the world — Spain, Japan, France and, of course, Ireland — 1010 WINS’ Al Jones reported.

It was a new tradition for Kevin Wimebold and his mother, who arrived early for a front-row view.

“She just retired, so her plan has always been, ‘As soon I retire, I can come see the parade’ because it’s been on her bucket list,” Wimebold told CBS2’s Janelle Burrell.

PHOTOS: 2015 St. Patrick’s Day Parade

“St. Paddy’s Day is always a great day for the Irish,” another paradegoer told 1010 WINS’ John Montone.

“This is a must-see actually of the city,” a man from Germany said. “I have never seen it, but it’s my first time and it’s great.”

The New York National Guard’s “Fighting 69th” led the parade for the 164th time. The battalion’s nickname dates back to the Civil War.

This year, the battalion was accompanied by a riderless horse, which commemorates 23 soldiers from the 69th Infantry who were killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The festivities began with Mayor Bill de Blasio hosting an annual holiday breakfast at Gracie Mansion, where he praised the contributions Irish immigrants have made to New York City.

“This city has a distinct character shaped substantially by an emerald thread that runs through that tapestry of New York,” he said in a speech. “They made the city and the nation stronger.”

The mayor then joined the thousands lucky enough to get a ticket for Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, but arrived about 15 minutes late for the morning service.

For the first time, an openly gay group was allowed to march under its own banner. The group, OUT@NBCUniversal from the parade’s broadcast partner NBC, was the only openly gay group allowed to march.

Prior to the festivities, LGBT members set up a demonstration, saying including one group in the parade isn’t enough.

 

“By putting a corporate, gay/straight marketing employee group into the parade, nobody is fooled, nobody is fooled,” Emmaia Gelman with Irish Queers told CBS2’s Emily Smith.

De Blasio skipped the parade last year because its organizers banned displays of gay pride. This year, de Blasio once again did not participate. He believes more gay groups should be allowed to take part.

“I think we still have to go farther and I will not be marching, but I look forward to progress in the future,” he said. “I think the first step was taken this year.”

A number of other elected officials said they planned to boycott the parade. Organizers say next year, other groups can apply.

Meanwhile, the Catholic League announced in September it would not participate in the parade because no pro-life groups were chosen to march.

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