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10 Things You Didn’t Know About St. Patrick’s Day

St. Patrick's Day, things you didn't know
MDGovpics, Flickr/LenDog64, Flickr/-Chupacabras-, Flickr/2sirius, Flickr

Everyone enjoys putting on their best green clothes on March 17 and being Irish for a day. We’ve all heard there was a saint and something to do with snakes in Ireland and now we have parades and drink green beer. But what do we really know about St. Patrick’s Day?

While everyone claims to be Irish on St. Patrick’s Day, you can sound like the real deal by knowing a few of these random facts about the day, the saint and the traditions. You might even earn some green beer with your knowledge.

1. St. Patrick Was Not Irish (or a Patrick)

Statue of St Patrick
-Chupacabras-, Flickr

The man we know as St. Patrick was born in Great Britain, named Maewyn Succat and was not religious. He was kidnapped and sold into slavery by Irish marauders when he was 16 and formed his religious beliefs while enslaved. After escaping back to England, he became ordained as a priest and returned to Ireland to convert the Irish Celtic pagans to Christianity.

2. St. Patrick’s Day Was Not Always a Big Party

St. Patrick's Day party in Dublin
LenDog64, Flickr

Originally, March 17, the recorded day of St. Patrick’s death, was celebrated as a Catholic feast and a quiet religious observance. The first largely public celebration of St. Patrick’s Day took place in Boston in 1737. It did not become a national holiday in Ireland until 1903. In fact, until the 1970s, pubs in Ireland were required by law to be closed on March 17.

3. St. Patrick’s Day Parades Started in the US

bagpipers marching in a parade
2sirius, Flickr

The first St. Patrick’s Day parade was actually held in New York in 1762, when Irish soldiers serving in the English military during the Revolutionary war marched through the city to celebrate the religious feast day and their Irish roots. The first parade in Ireland was held in Dublin in 1931.

4. Shamrocks Are for Sunday School

green clover
mfrascella, Flickr

Shamrocks and clovers have long been associated with St. Patrick because legend has it that he used a shamrock to describe the Christian idea of God as a Holy Trinity to the Druish King of Ireland. He chose the plant because the Celtics believed the clover to be sacred since its leaves form a triad. The legend of the clover states that each leaf has meaning. The first leaf is hope, the second is faith, the third is love and the fourth is luck.

5. St. Patrick Actually Wore Blue

green bearded St. Patrick walking the streets
mdid, Flickr

In modern celebrations of St. Patrick’s Day, revelers wear green, eat and drink green foods and turn everything they can dye green. This tradition is said to commemorate St. Patrick’s use of the shamrock in his religious teaching, but didn’t really become a part of his feast celebration until the 19th century. In reality, St. Patrick wore blue.

6. There Were No Snakes in Ireland

mural of St. Patrick and snakes in Dublin
makeshift123, Flickr

The legend of St. Patrick says that he is celebrated for driving all the snakes out of Ireland, which to this day, is a snake-free zone. The only problem with this legend is that biologists now believe there were never snakes in Ireland. Based on its geographical location and the temperature of the ocean surrounding it, snakes had no way of ever migrating to the island. Most likely, the legend of the snakes is a metaphor for St. Patrick driving paganism out of Ireland by converting so many people to Christianity.

7. America Has More Irish Than Ireland

the flag of Ireland
MDGovpics, Flickr

According to a US Census, there are more Irish people in America than there are in Ireland. As of 2003, more than 34 million Americans had Irish ancestry. The population of Ireland is just more than four million people.

8. Plenty of Irish Places to Celebrate in the US

Blarney Inn in Shamrock, TX
marada, Flickr

If you really want to get into the Irish spirit for St. Patrick’s Day, you don’t have to actually go to Dublin. There are plenty of towns in the US that sound like they are in Ireland. In fact, there are at least seven shamrocks: Shamrock, TX; Shamrock, Colorado; Shamrock, OK; Shamrock Lakes, IN; Mount Gay-Shamrock, NC; Shamrock, MO; and Shamrock, LA. There are 16 cities in the US named after Ireland’s capital, Dublin. The largest is Dublin, CA and the second largest is Dublin, OH. You could also visit Emerald Isle, NC or Irishtown, IL for some St. Patrick’s Day fun.

9. The Chicago River Isn’t Always That Green

Chicago River dyed green for St. Patrick's Day
Frank Polich, Getty Images

In celebration of the shamrock and the Emerald Isle itself, American St. Patrick’s Day partygoers like to turn things green. One well-known dye job happens every year in Chicago when the city dyes its river green. This tradition began in 1962 when the parade organizer, head of a plumbers’ union, noticed that the dye that had been used to find sources of river pollution stained his clothing green. He thought it would be a great idea to use enough dye to turn the whole river green for the city’s St. Patrick’s Day celebration. Researchers say the environmental impact of the dye is less than that of the pollution from sewage-treatment plants.

10. Corned Beef and Guinness Get a Boost

Shamrock Guinness
Daniele Faieta, Flickr

Aside from the varieties of green foods people consume for the feast of St. Patrick, there are some popular Irish treats that get a boost on the big day. Corned beef and cabbage is a popular Irish tradition. Each year in the US, more than 26 billion pounds of beef and more than two billion pounds of cabbage are produced. To wash this down, those who want to be truly Irish will have a pint of Guinness. The brewer says more than 13 million pints will be consumed around the world on St. Patrick’s Day. So raise a glass! You probably won’t remember any of this in the morning.

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