7 Fun Facts About St. Patrick's Day
On March 17, we're all a little Irish. Whether you're eating corned beef and cabbage, collecting shamrocks, or enjoying the perfect pour of Guinness, celebrating St. Patrick and the Republic of Ireland is a time-honored tradition each spring.
If you're a wee bit foggy on the details of what, exactly, all the green-clad revelers are commemorating, we've got you covered with seven fun facts about the holiday.
St. Patrick wasn't Irish.
Well, not technically. He was born around 390 AD in what is today known as England, Scotland, or Wales and was kidnapped into slavery at 16 and brought over to Ireland. He escaped to a monastery in Gaul—likely around present-day France—where he converted to Christianity, became a priest, and later a bishop.
He returned to Ireland around 432 as a missionary and is largely credited with introducing and converting the Irish people to Christianity. He became the patron saint of Ireland after his death in 461.
The first St. Patrick’s Day parades were held in the United States.
The first official St. Patrick's Day parade took place on March 17, 1601. Honoring the Catholic feast day of St. Patrick, Irish vicar, Ricardo Artur, directed the first parade in an early American colony, which is now St. Augustine, Florida. The second was in 1737 in Boston, Massachusetts, and the third was in New York City in 1762. Funny enough, the parade didn’t make it to Ireland until 1931. Now, many large cities host their own spectacles, drawing millions of visitors and participants worldwide.
The true origin of the shamrock is a little fuzzy.
There's quite a debate on the origin of the iconic St. Patrick’s Day symbol. The unofficial national flower of Ireland, some say that St. Patrick used the shamrock to represent the Holy Trinity when he was introducing Christianity to Ireland. Others say the number three was sacred in Irish mythology well before his time. Regardless, the festive emblem remains synonymous with the holiday and is even a registered trademark by the Irish government.
Leprechauns don’t really have anything to do with the holiday.
The infamous mascot of St. Patrick’s Day, leprechauns have been part of Irish culture and folklore for centuries. Originating before St. Patrick’s Day was recognized, these mischievous men are part of the fairy family of mythical creatures. Legend says these little guys were shoemakers who hid gold coins in pots at the end of rainbows. Because leprechauns were so small, they were hard to catch, but if you caught one, you’d be granted three wishes in exchange for setting him free. Overall, leprechauns and St. Patrick’s Day aren’t directly linked—they’re just both Irish symbols!
- You should be pinched for not wearing blue.
From the decorations to the color of the dyed Chicago River and beer, you probably associate St. Patrick's Day with a vivid shade of Kelly green. However, Ireland and St. Patrick were actually associated with a shade of sky blue called "St. Patrick's blue.” Green was considered unlucky until after the Irish independence movement in the 18th century. As the divide between the Irish population and the British crown strengthened, the color green became a symbol of rebellion for the Irish. It has been linked to the holiday and country ever since.
- It was almost called "St. Maewyn's Day."
St. Patrick’s real name was likely "Maewyn Succat" (pronounced "may-win"). According to legend, he changed his name to Patricius, which comes from the Latin term for “father figure,” once he became a priest in the 5th century. St. Maewyn’s Day certainly doesn't have the same ring as "St. Patrick's Day," that's for sure!
- It used to be a dry holiday.
St. Patrick's Day was once classified as a religious holiday in Ireland, so all bars were instructed to close for the day. When it switched to a national holiday in 1970, everything changed. Now pubs are a top spot for many to celebrate, and over 13 million pints of Guinness are consumed around the world every March 17.
Beer Decoded: Understanding the Basics
Taking part in St. Patrick’s Day festivities? To keep pace with your beer-drinking counterparts and hold your own in the wide world of beer—green or not—check out our beer article, where we break down some basic facts and decode the most popular types of beer on the market today.