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History of St. Patrick's Day

dew on bright green shamrock leaves

St. Patrick’s Day is a favorite spring celebration marked with parades, Irish music and the display of many types of green decorations, including shamrocks and leprechauns dressed in green suits. But who was St. Patrick and why do we celebrate him?

The Origin of St. Patrick's Day

St. Patrick's Day, observed every March 17, is a holiday that pays tribute to Irish history. The feast day is named for St. Patrick, who was born in Roman-ruled Britain in the 5th century. After spending his youth enslaved by Irish raiders, he eventually escaped and became a priest. He returned to Ireland as part of a major attempt to bring Christianity to the Irish. Legend says St. Patrick drove all the snakes out of Ireland. In reality, the Emerald Isle never was home to snakes to begin with.

St. Patrick’s Day has been celebrated in Ireland for around 1,000 years, to commemorate the establishment of Christianity in Ireland. However, the earliest St. Patrick’s Day parade is said to have occurred in St. Augustine, Florida, in 1601. Irish soldiers serving in the British army marked March 17, 1772, by marching in New York City. As more Irish immigrated to the U.S. and other countries, the enthusiasm for celebrating St. Patrick’s Day grew around the world. 

Celebrating St. Patrick's Day Today

Parades, Irish dancing and music, bagpipers and all things green are popular on St. Patrick’s Day. We celebrate with decorations of shamrocks and leprechauns, eat corned beef and cabbage and imbibe alcoholic beverages including Irish whiskey and green beer. But how did these customs begin?

Popular Holiday Symbols

Corned Beef & Cabbage

It’s common to serve corned beef and cabbage on St. Patrick’s Day but this wasn’t always the traditional meal. While bacon was much more common and affordable in Ireland, Irish immigrants in the U.S. found that the corned beef served in Jewish delis was a good substitute.


Ireland is home to many mythical beings, including fairies, pixies and leprechauns. In Irish folklore, leprechauns were known as cranky and mischievous tricksters. They often used their magic to fool people and lure them away from their fabled treasure.

The Shamrock

The shamrock, essentially the common clover, is a favorite symbol of the Irish. It’s said St. Patrick used the three connected leaves of the shamrock to explain the concept of the Holy Trinity. Thus, the shamrock has become synonymous with St. Patrick’s Day.

Wearin' o' the Green

Are shamrocks the reason we wear green on St. Patrick’s Day? Maybe, but the color green wasn’t associated with the day until the late 1700s, during the Irish Rebellion in Great Britain. And as for green beer, surprisingly, pubs were closed on St. Patrick’s Day for much of the 20th century. Irish Catholics traditionally celebrated this feast day by attending Mass, although the Lenten abstinence from meat was suspended for the day.

Whether or not you choose to eat corned beef and cabbage, drink green beer or wear something green, on St. Patrick’s Day we wish you “the luck o’ the Irish!”