According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are 36.5 million U.S. residents with Irish roots – almost eight times the population of Ireland itself!
Yet what do we really know about St. Patrick’s Day? To most of us here in the U.S., today is a day to celebrate our Irish (or non-Irish) heritage by partying! Admittedly, some of my friends in Ireland profess similar sentiments, as one put it: “Typically Irish people celebrate Paddy’s most revered of days by getting absolutely pasted (pronounced ‘payshted’).”
So in some ways, America is being fairly authentic in its treatment of March 17th. But how much do you actually know about today and how it has been celebrated in the past? Read on and learn what’s authentic tradition, and what’s not:
A Holy Day
Originally, St. Patrick’s Day started as a Catholic holiday in Ireland. A great number of people still treat it as a traditional day with a feast and mass. After all, it is a holy day. In fact, up until the 1970s, Irish laws mandated that pubs be closed on March 17!
Conversely, now it’s the stores, businesses, and banks that close in Ireland for St. Paddy’s Day, while the pubs and restaurants stay open!
Festivities Originate From…
America? We couldn’t believe it either. Up to the 18th century, as mentioned above, the day was almost solely a Catholic feast. But when Irish immigrants traveled to America, they wanted to show their pride on March 17th!
The first parade for this glorious day was actually held in the US. Irish soldiers fighting with the British in America’s Revolutionary War had a parade in 1762 for St. Patrick’s Day. They marched through New York City!
Speaking of parades…
Parades and Live Music Galore
Lots of ‘em. There are parades to watch, and live bands to listen to in pubs. There are also music festivals to attend! Look at all of the parades and bands you could be seeing!
I have yet to determine whether this is a popular myth or not. When asking my Irish experts, one said she didn’t really know of any toasts, but Mr. Moss remarked:
“Well, we do like eating toast… As for actual toasts, I suppose they’re more informal. They do happen, usually more for the older generations at bigger/more formal social gatherings. This one i’ve heard before: ‘May the roof of your house never fall in, and those within never fall out.'”
So there you go. You can spout Irish Toasts with your friends or family, but as to whether that’s a super Irish thing to do is still a mystery.
The Truth About St. Patrick
You probably don’t want to hear it, but here it is: St. Patrick WASN’T IRISH. He was born in 390 C.E. in Britain, and after being kidnapped and such (it’s actually a long story), he decided to hit up Ireland and convert people to Christianity.
Shamrocks, Leprechauns, and Green, Oh My!
These are probably the three biggest things we associate with this wondrous holiday. But why? Well, there seems to be an explanation for each.
Shamrocks: St. Patrick would use the shamrock to explain the Holy Trinity to people since it has three leaves, and it became a symbol of his. According to National Geographic, Trifolium dubium is seen as the official shamrock.
The Color Green: Look around and anything St. Paddy’s Day related will most likely include that kelly green. It’s everywhere! This is because the color green became a way to express one’s commitment to Ireland (due to the green pastures? No one’s really sure). Fun fact: Chicago dyed its river green for the first time in 1962.
The Leprechaun: These little dudes most likely come from a Celtic belief in fairies – tiny women and men who could preform good or evil magic. Leprechauns were especially grumpy and know for their tricks in order to keep their treasure safe!
Celebrate St. Paddy’s Day in style with these Irish Mixed Drinks!
Happy St. Patrick’s Day Y’all!