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St Patrick’s Day is a fun-filled festival celebrated in Ireland and North America, with parades in New York City (oldest and biggest), Boston, California, St Louis, and Chicago famously turning its river green. But why do Irish communities celebrate the 17th of March and how do they do it?
This guide covers everything you need to know about St Patrick’s Day, taking you through the history, how Ireland celebrates and where else in the world this day is simply more than an excuse for a huge party.
Equipped with the facts you can simply enjoy your new knowledge, and use it to plan the best St Paddy’s Day party or trip for a St Patty’s Day event!
You may also like this guide to DIY St Patrick’s Day gift baskets.
St Patrick’s Day Guide – General Knowledge
What is the date of St. Patrick’s day?
St Patrick’s Day takes place on the 17th of March every year. Since the Irish are renowned for their love of the craic and a party, most events go on into the wee hours of the morning.
The Origin of St. Patrick’s Day
In the history of St. Patrick’s day legend has it that St. Patrick arrived in Ireland in the 4th century at the young age of 16.
He is said to have become interested in Christianity and set about converting the people of Ireland to Christians.
St. Patrick Day Facts and Myths
St. Patrick was actually born in Britain!
He was kidnapped at the age of 16 and brought to Ireland to serve a Celtic Priest.
Ireland was supposedly overrun with snakes and the legend of St. Patrick tells us that he drove the snakes from the land to the sea.
He became a bit of a hero for managing this task!
However, there were actually no snakes in Ireland for him to drive out.
The first thing that springs to mind about St. Patrick’s Day is the pints of Guinness and the green colored drinks that are consumed.
But did you know that up until 1973, St. Patrick’s Day was a holy day and a day of abstinence?
The only place alcohol could be bought was at the Royal Dublin Dog Show.
Suddenly everyone had a dog!
The first St. Patrick’s Day parade was held in America in 1601, St Augustine Florida and has taken place most years since.
The Irish were not welcomed in the USA at first.
Nowadays, Americans are proud of their Irish heritage, but it wasn’t always like that.
Coming to America as refugees fleeing famine, they were looked down upon.
St. Patrick’s Day Traditions
Now here it gets fun.
I asked my friend, who is a true Dub (Dubliner) for some insight into what goes down in Ireland on this day.
St. Patrick’s Day in Dublin is possibly the holy grail of those who want to party with the best of them.
It’s a national holiday – this means everyone is off including the school children.
The children are given green ribbons for their hair or a rosette with a gold harp on it.
The rosette is the prize all children want!
As it always rains on St. Patrick’s Day, the Irish mammies and daddies tell the children that St. Patrick is drowning the shamrocks in order to get them up and ready for the parade in the city where they must wear their Sunday best.
They have specific dishes that they eat.
St. Patrick’s Day food is simple and easy to make.
Colcannon, a dish made with mashed potato, cabbage or kale.
In Dublin, they call this ‘curly kay’.
Coddle is another meal that is eaten, made from salty bacon, pork sausages and potatoes.
Then we have ‘corned beef’. This is made from boiled brisket and is served with cabbage and potatoes.
The brisket is soaked overnight to take the salt out then boiled.
These meals hark back to the times when Ireland was still a newly independent country and their currency was worthless.
The families would have been struggling so would be making the most of every morsel they got their hands on.
Irish dancers perform in the bandstands, come rain or shine.
This is a day of celebration for the whole country, a time to be Irish as their independence has allowed them to be.
St. Patrick’s Day Symbols
This is one of the oldest myths in Ireland. The leprechaun is a type of fairy who is originally linked to the Tuatha De Danann.
The Tuatha de Danann was a magical race that possessed supernatural powers.
Most of them were god-like creatures or divine beings that were being worshipped.
You pronounce Tuatha de Danann this way: Thoo-a day du-non, which literally means people of the goddess Danu.
These ‘little people’ or ‘wee folk’ invaded Ireland and were banished to live underground.
They are said to be very devious and intelligent.
If you catch one, you will be granted three wishes – but beware! As these crafty creatures will grant your wishes but not always in the way you think it should turn out.
The other side to the leprechaun myth is the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
If you catch one of the wee folk, you can force them to tell you where they hide their pot of gold.
The phrase ‘always chasing rainbows’ comes to mind here, if you can never find the end, you’ll never find your pot of gold!
The next is the four leaf clover.
Four Leaf Clover
This flower is the symbol of good luck.
Originally this luck was associated with the three leaf clover, which was carried by the Druids or Celtic Priests.
The flower was said to give the Druidas the power to see evil spirits and escape from them before they attacked them.
Morphing into the four leaf clover or shamrock, this hybrid of the flower was said to give children the power to see fairies when they carried one with them.
Nowadays, as you are only able to find a four leaf clover on very rare occasions, (there is only one four leaf clover in every 10,000 three leafed ones), it has become a good luck charm.
The Color Green
If there ever was a colour that was associated with St. Patrick’s Day, it’s the colour green.
From painting your face green to the green pints of Guinness consumed by the many who celebrate this day across the globe; green is everywhere.
Where did this come from?
The easiest answer is from the countryside of Ireland.
This lush, green countryside is synonymous with Ireland.
The rain ensures that the county is vibrant and fresh looking all year round.
The colour green became associated with this day in the 18th century when they took the shamrock as a national symbol.
In fact, so popular is this national day that in the USA the city of Chicago turns the Chicago River green to celebrate!
While the shamrock is everywhere and is more often than not associated as being the official symbol of Ireland, it is in fact the harp.
The Cláirseach or Harp was adopted as the emblem in 1922 when Ireland became a free state.
It takes pride of place on the Irish passport, Irish coins and it is the symbol of the Irish president.
Most famously, you will see it on anything to do with Guinness!
I hope that you have enjoyed this whistle stop tour of all things St. Patrick’s Day.
Whatever you decide to get involved in on the 17th of March, just make sure you have those tunes on and your toes are tapping!
8 Things To Do On St. Patrick’s Day
Here are a few of the main events to look out for while you are travelling.
St Patrick’s Day Dublin
The day has become more of a festival with various activities that the family can take part in.
It begins with Mass.
This was always a Holy Day, so this tradition is something that will always remain part of the Irish way of celebrating.
After Mass, the Dubs head out to the city center and wait for the parade.
Every lamp post, fountain, statue or climbable object is claimed and mounted for the best view of this parade.
With Irish music, Irish dancers and a sea of color as far as the eye can see, this truly is the place to be for St. Patrick’s Day.
With around 500,000 people visiting Dublin for the St. Patrick’s Day festival, there will be something for everyone to join in with.
St. Patrick’s Day parades are not just restricted to Ireland.
With Expats all over the world, the parades are also all over the globe and you will find somewhere to celebrate your favorite holiday.
The USA is one such place where millions of Irish immigrants were welcomed in the late 19th century.
With a strong belief in their heritage, the Americans love to embrace this holiday in only the way that America can.
St. Patrick’s Day Parade New York
The parade starts at 44th Street and 5th Avenue at 11 am and proceeds up the avenue to 79th Street. Throughout the day along the Parade route, millions of spectators come to celebrate.
With marching bands, Irish dancers, pipe bands and colorful costumes, this is one spectacle you don’t want to miss if you are in New York.
Get all the details in our complete guide to St. Patrick’s Day in NYC and plan your visit for all the festive fun.
You may also like our guide to unique things to do in NYC.
St. Patrick’s Day St. Louis
Another one of the cities in the USA where this day is taken very seriously.
Starting at 8 am these citizens embrace all things, Irish.
With a St. Patrick’s Day run, Irish cooking and drinking demonstrations to music, and the parade, this is definitely a family event to enjoy.
St. Patrick’s Day Austin
With a week full of Irish traditional live music and Irish dancing.
It’s only right that the city famous for music festivals embraces this in its own way.
Fun for all the family with plenty of Irish spirit to go around.
St. Patrick’s Day Boston
Not only does Boston offer a parade, but this city also gives you a chance to enjoy a harbor cruise accompanied by Irish music.
Check out the complete guide to St. Patrick’s Day in Boston for more details and trip inspiration.
You may also like our guide to where to stay in Boston.
St. Patrick’s Day Savannah
Savannah, Georgia, hosts one of the largest Irish-American communities in the whole United States.
The city loves to celebrate that heritage, so don’t skip spending St. Patrick’s Day in Savannah, where the fountain is dyed green, the parade brings everyone out to line the streets, and the beers are flowing.
St. Patrick’s Day Disney
In a way that only Disney can, this day is given the full sparkle treatment of Disney.
With Irish pubs and restaurants, you can enjoy the spectacle of the Irish dancers, musicians and family fun all the way.
If a parade isn’t up your street, why not look out for these colourful St. Patrick’s Day celebrations?
Light the Cities Green
The London Eye lights up green on the 17th of March.
The top of the Empire State Building also turns that famous shade of green to celebrate the day.
The Christ the Redeemer, perhaps Brazil’s most iconic site, is lit in green at the top of Corcovado mountain for St. Patrick’s Day.
The Sacré Coeur Basilica, one of Paris’ landmarks, is illuminated green in celebration of the day.
Host Your Own St. Patrick’s Day Party
At the beginning of the article, I mentioned some of the recipes that are traditional to this day.
Why not put on your own Irish feast?
Begin the day with a full Irish breakfast including some Irish pork sausages and black pudding.
Lunch could involve some classic Irish potato pancakes.
For dinner, why not try the corned beef with cabbage?
For drinks, well green beer is a must.
A light-colored lager with a drop of green food coloring will make sure you’re the best party going.
If you decide to hold a party, make sure you are getting all those decorations that make the day colorful.
This 61 piece decoration pack will make sure your party sets the right tone.
Wear a St. Patrick’s Day Costume
For St. Patrick’s Day outfits, why not go the whole hog and get yourself an Irish-themed dress?
There are lots of choice for men including this novelty Irish hat and beard.
Recite an Irish Blessing
Poetry was born in Ireland.
With the lilting accents, the romantic scenery, the sounds of the ocean, and the giobóg and colleens with flaming hair and green eyes, it is little wonder that there is a plethora of blessings, poetry, and songs.
The St. Patrick’s Day prayer is a simple and yet meaningful few lines:
‘May the Wisdom of God instruct us. May the Hand of God protect us. May the Way of God direct us. May the Shield of God defend us.’
One of the most famous Irish blessings is seen on dish towels, postcards and most other tourist purchases.
In fact, I have this on a postcard hanging in my classroom!
‘May the wind be always at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face, The rains fall soft upon your fields. And until we meet again, May God hold you in the palm of his hand.’
One of my all-time favorite Irish poets is Seamus Heaney.
His poetry will take you through his childhood and the troubles that he lived through in Ireland.
I would suggest ‘While all the Others were away at Mass’ as one of his inspiring poems.
Let’s not forget the good old limerick!
This five-lined cheeky poem will have you in stitches.
Why not try to make your own up for friends and family?
St. Patrick’s Day Limerick
There once was a mid-March day
When people would gather and say
“St. Patrick’s Day is here!
Let’s wear green and give cheer!”
And they’d party the evening away.
Send Your Friend a St Paddy’s Day Gift!
One way to celebrate the day is to send Irish gifts of luck and laughter to your friends and family.
Here are a few to choose from.
St. Patrick’s Day Clover
The four leaf clover or shamrock is the perfect way to send someone you care about luck that they may need.
This classy necklace is a lovely way to do just that.
St Patrick’s Day Rainbow
The rainbow is an everlasting symbol of health and happiness.
Why not send someone their own rainbow and pot of gold earrings?
For those who like a more meaningful gift, there is always the St. Patrick’s Day prayer.
Watch A St. Patrick’s Day Movies
If a day of partying and socializing isn’t your cup of tea, why not settle down with a few St. Patrick Day-themed movies.
Here are a few ideas for you to consider.
P.S I love You
A good old romcom full of laughter and tears.
Make sure you have the tissues handy!
You’ll pick up some of the Irish slang from this comedy!
Your feet will be tapping to the tunes and you’ll fall in love with Ireland all over again.
In the Name of the Father
This is a historical courtroom drama charting the aftermath of a coerced confession to an IRA bombing.
Although this is set in Brooklyn, it is a lovely adaptation about an Irish immigrant following ambition all the way to Brooklyn strikes a very personal chord, no matter your homeland.
Listen to Some Traditional Irish Music
Of everything to come out of Ireland, the music that the Irish have produced is some of the best in the world.
From the Pogues and The Dubliners to U2 and The Script, you can certainly say there is something for everyone.
Here are some tunes that will get your toes tapping and those legs doing an Irish jig.
- The Script “Paint the Town Green”.
- U2 “Where the Streets have no Name”.
- The Dubliners “Molly Malone’.
- The Cranberries “Zombie”.
- The Rumjacks “An Irish Pub Song”.
- Dropkick Murphys “I’m Shipping to Boston”.
- The Chieftains and Sinead O’Connor “The Foggy Dew”. (Fun fact, I work with Sinead O’Connor’s uncle!)
- The Pogues “Dirty Old Town”.
- Ed Sheran “Galway Girl”.
All of these should now be on your Spotify list!