St. Patrick’s Day: A day for parades, leprechauns and shamrocks, kissing all those who are (or claim to be) Irish, and drinking green beer. And while we may spend the day pinching those who forgot to wear green, it’s actually the color blue that was traditionally associated with the patron Saint! Despite the fact that St. Patty’s day is celebrated all around the world, there are many other misconceptions about the Saint, the history and the symbols that surround it, as well as the festive traditions that we’ve all come to love.
So, if you want to impress your friends this March, read on for some fun facts that will turn your friends’ eyes green (or blue!) with envy.
For only one day out of every year, it seems everyone is suddenly determined to declare their Irish heritage. But did you know that St. Patrick himself wasn’t even born in Ireland? He was actually born in Britain to Catholic parents and led a happy life until the age of 16. His privileged life suddenly took a turn for the worse when slave raiders captured him and took him to Ireland.
After six years in captivity, Saint Patrick escaped and, on his voyage home, he envisioned returning to Ireland to teach the then pagan Island about Christianity. And for 30 years, this is just what he did. While there, he founded more than 300 churches and baptized over 120,000 people. He died of natural causes on March 17, the year of which is uncertain.
The first St. Patrick’s Day parade actually took place in the United States in 1762 when Irish soldiers who were serving in the English military marched through New York City. Much like the first, earlier parades were often military celebrations. With the Irish population swelling, parades were common among Irish communities throughout both America and Canada by the mid-nineteenth century. Now, more than 100 St. Patrick’s Day parades are held across the United States with New York City and Boston hosting some of the largest celebrations. Between 150,000 and 250,000 people march in the New York City parade alone, with more than 2 million watching.
While many choose to celebrate this day by drinking beer (green or otherwise), drinking wasn’t even allowed on St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland because the day was meant to be a religious observation. All pubs had to shut down every year on March 17 until the law was overturned in 1970.
The purpose of wearing the color green on this festive day is to promote Ireland, or “The Green Isle.” Children and adults alike find it in good fun to pinch those who refuse to don the color, although it is still unclear where this tradition came from. Apparently, all you have to do to be Irish is wear green on this one day Chicago even began dying the Chicago River green for the day in 1962, using vegetable dye. Although they began to use less dye that would only keep the river green for four to five hours, for environmental reasons, this tradition may be discontinued soon.
You might as well forget about those cheerful leprechauns. Not only did they have absolutely nothing to do with St. Patty’s day, but that jovial little man dressed in green is of an entirely different sort than the cantankerous and tricky kind found in Irish folklore.
As for the Shamrock, it is said to have been used by the Saint himself as a tool to teach the doctrine of the Holy Trinity to the Irish pagans. Because of this, it was chosen as Ireland’s national emblem.
So whether or not you are fortunate enough to be of Irish blood, make sure that you wear your greenest shirt this March 17th, pin on a shamrock or two, and hope that the luck of the Irish is coming your way.