Is Everything You Thought You Knew About St. Patrick’s Day Blarney?

On St. Patrick’s Day millions of people will become Irish for a day, don green and celebrate with parades, good cheer and perhaps a pint of green beer, but how many of these Irish traditions are actually what we believe them to be? We did some digging and were surprised by some of what we found out! How does your knowledge stack up?

Leprechauns are the most common face of St. Patrick’s Day, we all seek to find their treasure hidden at the end of the rainbow, but do you know where the legend started? A leprechaun is a diminutive fairy, a supernatural creature about whom tales were passed down within the rich history of Irish oral storytelling.  Irish folklore described leprechauns as crotchety, solitary, yet mischievous creatures. They were said to be shoemakers who socked away their profits in pots at the end of rainbows, or scattered them around in mountains, forests, or rocks. Leprechauns originally were said to wear red, and it has been theorized that after green began to be associated with everything Irish in the 20th century, the color of his garments transformed. But there may also be another explanation for the sartorial choice: green helps the little men to blend into the grass and the leaves as a sort of camouflage. It is thought to be good luck if you spot a leprechaun, so be sure to keep an eye out as your raise your pint on the 17th!

Surely Saint Patrick, for whom the holiday was named, is an Irishman, right? Not so fast…though he is one of Ireland’s patron saints, St. Patrick , was born in what is now England, Scotland or Wales, to a Christian deacon and his wife, probably around the year 390. According to the traditional narrative, at 16 he was kidnapped and enslaved by Irish raiders; they transported him to Ireland and held him captive there for six years. Patrick later fled to England, where he received religious instruction before returning to Ireland to serve as a missionary. Also contrary to popular belief, St. Patrick is not responsible for driving the snakes out of Ireland. Legend has it that Patrick stood on an Irish hillside and delivered a sermon that drove the island’s serpents into the sea. While it’s true that the island is mercifully snake-free, chances are that has been the case throughout human history. Water has surrounded Ireland since the end of the last glacial period, preventing snakes from slithering over; before that, it was blanketed in ice and too chilly for the cold-blooded creatures. Scholars believe the snake story is an allegory for St. Patrick’s eradication of pagan ideology.

Have you ever wondered why we all wear the color green on St. Patrick’s Day? We wondered the same thing, The Irish countryside may be many shades of green, but knights in the Order of St. Patrick wore a color known as St. Patrick’s blue. Why did green become the color so representative of St. Patrick that people began drinking green beer, wearing green and, of course, dyeing the Chicago River green to mark the holiday he inspired? It is speculated that it dates back to the 18th century, when supporters of Irish independence used the color to represent their cause.

While St. Patrick’s Day is an Irish holiday, it is not celebrated in the same way in the homeland. Until the 1700s, St. Patrick’s Day was a Roman Catholic feast only observed in Ireland—and without the raucous revelry of today’s celebrations. Instead, the faithful spent the relatively somber occasion in quiet prayer at church or at home. That started to change when Irish immigrants living in the United States began organizing parades and other events on March 17 as a show of pride. For many people around the world, St. Patrick’s Day has evolved into a secular ode to Irish culture celebrated by parties, music and iconic foods. Speaking of iconic foods, before you settle in to your corned beef and cabbage dinner, do you know that is not a traditional Irish feast, on St. Patrick’s Day or any other day? A typical holiday dinner in Ireland is a type of bacon similar to ham and of course, potatoes. In the late 19th century, Irish immigrants in New York City’s Lower East Side supposedly substituted corned beef, which they bought from their Jewish neighbors, in order to save money.

Pinching those not wearing green on St. Patrick’s Day is an American tradition, having really nothing to do with Ireland or St. Patrick, nor is drinking green beer, eating green food, or dying rivers green. Whatever you do to celebrate Irish culture on March 17th, have fun… maybe you’ll impress someone else with the Truth about the holiday’s origins! 

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