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St Patrick’s Day (March 17): History, Meaning, Activities And Jokes. Photo KnowInsiders

When is St. Patrick's Day?

St. Patrick's Day is celebrated on March 17th as a holiday in the Republic of Ireland and a bank holiday in Northern Ireland. If March 17th falls on a weekend, the following Monday will be a holiday in Northern Ireland.

In 2022, St. Patrick's Day falls on Thursday, March 17.

Is St. Patrick's Day always on March 17?

Good question. The answer is yes! The earliest observance of St. Patrick's Day dates back to Ireland in the 1600s. It began as—and remains—a religious day to recognize the death of St. Patrick, Ireland's patron saint who brought Christianity to the country. Because it's a feast day in Christianity, the date remains March 17.

This harkens back to the history of St. Patrick's Day: The holiday as we know it today, with parades, parties, and more, emerged from Irish-Americans in the 1800s, according to Time. By the end of the century, big cities like Boston, New York, and Chicago were hosting major celebrations for everyone to take part in over the course of days leading up to March 17. So funnily enough, the St. Patrick's Day festivities we know today are more American than Irish!

Who Was St. Patrick?

Saint Patrick, who lived during the fifth century, is the patron saint of Ireland and its national apostle. Born in Roman Britain, he was kidnapped and brought to Ireland as a slave at the age of 16. He later escaped, but returned to Ireland and was credited with bringing Christianity to its people.

In the centuries following Patrick’s death (believed to have been on March 17, 461), the mythology surrounding his life became ever more ingrained in the Irish culture: Perhaps the most well-known legend of St. Patrick is that he explained the Holy Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) using the three leaves of a native Irish clover, the shamrock.

When Was the First St. Patrick’s Day Celebrated?

Photo history
Photo history

Since around the ninth or 10th century, people in Ireland have been observing the Roman Catholic feast day of St. Patrick on March 17. The first St. Patrick’s Day parade took place not in Ireland but in America. Records show that a St. Patrick’s Day parade was held on March 17, 1601 in a Spanish colony in what is now St. Augustine, Florida. The parade, and a St. Patrick’s Day celebration a year earlier were organized by the Spanish Colony's Irish vicar Ricardo Artur.

More than a century later, homesick Irish soldiers serving in the English military marched in New York City on March 17, 1772 to honor the Irish patron saint. Enthusiasm for the St. Patrick's Day parades in New York City, Boston and other early American cities only grew from there.

What is the true Irish meaning of Saint Patrick’s Day?

March 17 marks the fifth-century death of our beloved patron saint, Saint Patrick and for over a thousand years, has been celebrated as a religious feast day.

According to history, St. Patrick was a missionary to Ireland and he became an adored figure for Irish Catholics as the person to bring Christianity to the Emerald Isle.

In times gone by, canonizations were carried out on a regional level, meaning that Patrick has never officially been canonized by a Pope although he is included on the list of Saints. The feast day was only officially placed on the Catholic Church’s liturgical calendar in the early 1600s with thanks to Waterford-born Franciscan scholar Luke Wadding.

Photo tiqets
Photo tiqets

From then on it has been a holy day of obligation for Catholics (they are obliged to participate in the Mass). Until the 1700s, St. Patrick’s Day was celebrated predominantly in Ireland where it was a somber religious occasion spent mainly in prayer.

St. Patrick’s Day didn’t become an official Irish public holiday until 1903 with the introduction of the Bank Holiday (Ireland) Act 1903. This act was introduced by Irish Member of Parliament James O’Mara, who was also responsible for the law that required the closing of pubs on March 17.

The typical Irish family celebration before the 70s and before the uplift of the ban on drinking was very different from the party atmosphere associated with the day now. As St. Patrick’s Day generally falls within the Christian season of Lent, Mass was attended in the morning with the afternoon set aside for celebrations. The Lenten prohibition against meat was lifted for the day and families sang and danced and celebrated during a time that is normally more somber on the Christian calendar.

In fact, before the drinking ban was repealed, there was only one place in Ireland where one could buy a tipple on March 17: The Royal Dublin Dog Show.

When did the meaning of Saint Patrick’s Day change?

The evolution of St. Patrick’s Day into the ruckus it’s now associated with may, in fact, have been solely an Irish-American construct. Despite the fact that the feast day has been observed in Ireland since the 9th or 10th century, it was in New York City that the first parade took place when in 1762 Irish soldiers serving with the English military marched through Manhattan to a local tavern.

Patriotism amongst Irish immigrants in America continued to grow with the New York Irish Aid societies holding the first official parade in 1848 - the world’s oldest civilian parade and the largest in the United States. The first parade in the Irish Free State did not take place until 1931.

The promotion of Paddy’s Day in Ireland truly began in 1995 when the Irish Government realized the potential tourism benefits of celebrating the day and the opportunities for the country to sell its culture and sights to the rest of the world.

This resulted in the creation of the St. Patrick’s Day Festival and has amassed to the multi-day celebration that we now have in Dublin in which approximately one million people take part annually.

Is the meaning of Saint Patrick’s Day to promote Irish culture?

Some people love/hate Saint Patrick’s Day as the biggest day of the year on which we get to sell our little island to the world’s big hitters and convince them to continue doing business with us and visiting our shores.

While this is a recent phenomenon - the now traditional shamrock ceremony in the White House only being started in 1952 by Ireland’s ambassador to the United States, John Hearne - there were other times in history in which St Patrick's Day was used as a day on which Irish culture could be placed to the forefront.

From the 18th century onward, as a result of the Penal Laws in Ireland, some Irish people began to use St. Patrick’s Day as a means of promoting Irish culture and tradition. So as to show their Irish Christian pride, the tradition of wearing of shamrocks began but the day still revolved around the Catholic religion.

Why do we wear green on St Patrick’s Day?

Photo history
Photo history

Ireland wasn't always associated with the color green. Even though its lush hills would suggest otherwise, the Emerald Isle was actually once aligned with the color blue instead. When Henry the VIII claimed himself to be king of Ireland in the 1500s, his flag was blue, meaning that Ireland was also associated with the color. However, green was later used as the color of the flag in the Great Irish Rebellion of 1641 when the Irish fought against the English. Over the years, green became a national symbol of pride for Ireland.

Wearing green clothes became common in the U.S. at St. Patrick's Day parades and celebrations in the 1800s. It was a symbol that Irish-Americans used to honor their heritage and seems to have stuck all these years later.

St Patrick’s Day Traditions

Photo KnowInsiders
Photo KnowInsiders

1. Eating corned beef and cabbage … and bacon!

Believe it or not, but corned beef and cabbage are actually more of an Irish American tradition than an Irish one. Historically, Irish bacon (a form of cured pork) was actually the meat of choice for St. Patrick’s Day. It wasn’t until the early 1900s that Irish Americans in New York City began to eat corned beef instead because it was much more affordable. Cabbage also became popular simply because it was cheap and readily available.

2. Rocking shamrocks

Shamrocks are staples of St. Patrick’s Day decor and dress. According to Time, clovers and shamrocks were readily available and cheap ways to dress up outfits to go to church, and Irish people began wearing them to services starting in the 1600s. A 1726 treatise from Irish cleric Caleb Threlkeld declared the shamrock the Irish national symbol, writing, “This Plant is worn by the People in their Hats upon the 17. Day of March yearly, (which is called St. Patrick’s Day.)…It being a Current Tradition, that by this Three Leafed Grass, he emblematically set forth to them the Mystery of the Holy Trinity.”

3. Drowning the shamrock

Wearing shamrocks isn’t the only thing we do with them to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. “Drowning the shamrock” is considered good luck (even if it could possibly lead to a headache on March 18). According to some legends, Saint Patrick himself went to a bar and got a glass of whiskey that was partially empty. The saint warned the bartender that the devil comes for the dishonest, at which point he was scared straight: The next time Saint Patrick visited the pub, everyone’s whiskey glasses were full. These days, at closing time on St. Patrick’s night, shamrocks are dunked into the final glasses of whiskey (or whatever you’re imbibing!) as a toast to the man who drove the proverbial snakes out of Ireland.

4. Enjoying some Guinness

Guinness is always popular in Ireland, but enjoys a special boon in business on St. Patrick’s Day stateside: The brand revealed to USA Today that five times more Guinness (3 million versus 600,000) pints are sold on St. Patrick’s Day than any other day of the year in the U.S.

5. Looking for leprechauns

Photo kidszworld
Photo kidszworld

Leprechauns can be traced back a number of ways: Though most clearly linked to sprites and fairies in terms of their magical origins, the term “leprechaun” may come from two different roots: In the 700s, water spirits called “luchorpán” were said to be tiny, as well as “leath bhrogan,” Irish for “shoemaker.” Some legends claim that you can find a leprechaun if you follow the tap of their cobbler’s hammers. All leprechauns are said to be male, which means they really must be the stuff of magic, because, well…

6. Irish music, both modern and of the traditional folk variety, is often played live.

A "céilí" is an Irish social gathering usually centered around dancing to traditional Irish music. Ireland has its share of musical instruments that get the chance to shine during St. Patrick's Day performances. These include the bodhrán, a special drum, the Celtic harp, the fiddle, and and uilleann pipes, which are played similarly to Scottish bagpipes but are softer in tone.

7.Church services honoring St. Patrick

At its core, St. Patrick’s Day is a religious holiday honoring Ireland’s patron saint, so many Catholics (especially, of course, Irish Catholics) mark the occasion by going to mass.

8. Dyeing the Chicago River green

Photo iStock
Photo iStock

Since 1962, Chicago has dyed its namesake river green every St. Patrick’s Day. The use of green dye started with a utilitarian purpose: City workers originally used green dye to trace unauthorized sewages, then realized it looks very festive!

9. The whole “kiss me, I’m Irish” thing

The phrase “Kiss me, I’m Irish” comes from the Blarney Stone. Irish legend says that kissing the famous stone in Blarney Castle gives the kisser the gift of charming, eloquent and persuasive speech. Since most people won’t get to smooch the stone, it’s said that puckering up to an Irish person is the next best thing.

St Patrick’s Day Food

Shepherd's Pie

Photo Baltimore Magazine
Photo Baltimore Magazine

For a comforting main dish that is the stick-to-your-ribs cure on any cold winter night, Melissa d'Arabian's recipe for the meat-and-veg classic, Shepherd's Pie, is a go-to. Pile a garlicky mashed potato topping, plus a good sprinkling of cheddar, over a meaty base fortified with dark beer for super-rich flavor.

Irish Soda Bread

Bread baking is notoriously a whole to-do, but Ina's easy-to-make Irish Soda Bread doesn't call for any kneading, rising or waiting. Simply throw the ingredients in the mixer to bake a loaf that gains a subtle sweetness from orange zest and currants.


Photo simply fresh events
Photo simply fresh events

Serve up a traditional Irish side that one-ups mashed potatoes. Tyler Florence's Colcannon recipe is made with mashed potatoes and cabbage, and it's killer against that corned beef you already have in the works.

Sauteed Cabbage

Throughout history, plentiful and nutrient-rich cabbage has been a mainstay in Ireland. Ina Garten's Sauteed Cabbage celebrates this sturdy vegetable, by sauteing it simply with butter, salt and pepper.

St Patrick's Day Jokes

  • Why should you never lend money to a leprechaun? They always come up short.
  • What did the naughty leprechaun get on Christmas? A pot of coal!
  • What do you call a person who robs you on St. Paddy's Day? A lepre-con!
  • Who catches the lepre-cons? Under-clover cops!
  • What did St. Patrick say to the snakes? He told them to hiss off!
  • How did the leprechaun win the race? He took a shortcut.
  • How does a leprechaun work out? By pushin' his luck!
  • "Knock, knock." "Who's there?" "Irish." "Irish who?" "Irish you a happy St. Paddy's Day!"
  • "Knock, knock." "Who's there?" "Ireland." "Ireland who?" "Ireland you some money if you pay me back!"
  • "Knock, knock." "Who's there?" "Warren." "Warren who?" "You warren anything green for St. Patrick's Day?"
  • "Knock, knock." "Who's there?" "Clover." "Clover who?" "Clover here and I'll tell ya."
  • "Knock, knock." "Who's there?" "Pat." "Pat who?" "Pat your jacket on, we're late to the St. Patrick's Day parade!"
  • "Knock, knock." "Who's there?" "Irish." "Irish who?" "Irish you'd kiss me!"
  • "Knock, knock." "Who's there?" "Shepherd." "Shepherd who?" "Shepherd spy is watching you!"
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