When Is St. Patrick’s Day and Why Do We Celebrate It?

When is St. Patrick's Day, you ask? Here's the scoop on everything to need to know about this Irish holiday.

St. Patrick’s Day 2022 is almost here, which means you’re probably starting to think about what green clothing you have in your closet, what Irish movies to watch, or maybe you’re googling how to make Irish Soda Bread—and other St Patrick’s Day recipes. But before you head to your local parade or embark on any other St. Patrick’s Day traditions, you may have a few questions you want answered, like when is St. Patrick’s Day? What’s the history of St. Patrick’s Day? And what’s the deal with wearing green?

When is St. Patrick’s Day?

St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated annually on March 17, the anniversary of the death of St. Patrick in the fifth century—but more on that later. While St. Patrick’s Day is officially observed on the 17th, celebrations may not be limited to just this day.

Is St. Patrick’s Day a federal holiday? 

St. Patrick’s Day is not considered a federal holiday in the United States but is still widely observed throughout the country as a celebration of Irish culture. Schools and businesses will still be open as usual. In Ireland, St. Patrick’s Day is considered a public holiday, meaning schools and offices shut down for a day of celebration.

What is the history of St. Patrick’s Day? 

Saint Patrick Archive Photos/Stringer/Getty Images

Before we dive into the St. Patrick’s Day history, you’re probably wondering who St. Patrick is, and understandably so. St. Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland, best known for bringing Christianity to the land during the fifth century. He was born in Roman Britain and was kidnapped at the age of 16 to be brought to Ireland as a slave. After escaping, he later returned to Ireland to bring Christianity to its people after using his challenging years to discover his Christian faith.

Legends surrounding St. Patrick’s death grew as time went on, and his life became more embedded in Irish culture. The most well-known tale about St. Patrick is when he explains the Holy Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit using a shamrock with three leaves.

Records show that the people of Ireland have been celebrating St. Patrick’s Day since the ninth or tenth century, and observing it as a Roman Catholic feast holiday. But the very first St. Patrick’s Day parade actually took place in America in 1601. As the Irish population grew in America, so did the St. Patrick’s Day festivities.

Since St. Patrick’s Day falls during the Christian season of Lent, the Irish would typically attend church in the morning and then celebrate the holiday in the afternoon. The sacrifices made during Lent were renounced during this time so people could eat, drink, and dance.

St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated in order to commemorate the life of St. Patrick on the anniversary of his death, March 17th.

How to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day 

There are so many ways to get in on the St. Patrick’s Day festivities, but you can start by checking out your local parade. If you live in the New York area, you have likely heard of the New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade. This parade is actually the oldest civilian parade in history, and the largest in the United States, with over 150,000 attendees. You also may have heard of the annual celebration in Chicago where the Chicago River is dyed green, or any of the smaller parades in Boston, Savannah, and Philadelphia. Check your local news to see where the closest parade is to you.

If large crowds aren’t really your thing, there are plenty of ways to keep it low-key. Pull out that green sweater and wear it to work to show that you are indeed festive. Share some St. Patrick’s Day quotes, St. Patrick’s Day memes, or St. Patrick’s Day jokes on social media. Or if you’re planning a St. Patrick’s Day party with your closest friends, try whipping up some traditional recipes like Irish Soda Bread or corned beef and cabbage, or bake something green. You can even take the kids to the park to see if they can spot any four-leaf clovers.

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

Novelty necklace for a saint Patrick’s day paradeDouglas Sacha/Getty Images

Here’s a fun fact for your next gathering: Ireland was formerly associated with the color blue. So, why do we wear green on St. Patrick’s Day?

In the 1500s, Henry the VIII claimed himself to be king of Ireland and had a blue flag. When the divide between the British power and the Irish people grew, green became a symbol of Irish nationalism. Ireland wanted to separate themselves from Britain, so green was the color of their rebellion.

Another reason green replaced blue was because of Ireland’s nickname, The Emerald Isle, and it may also have something to do with the color of the shamrock symbol.

Why do you pinch on St. Patrick day?

You can’t talk about pinching without talking about leprechauns. Belief in leprechauns reportedly grew from the Celtic belief in fairies, who could use their powers to serve good or evil. In Irish folklore, leprechauns were the cobblers to the fairies, and were also known for their trickery. According to legend, you would get pinched on St. Patrick’s Day for not wearing green, as the color green makes you invisible to leprechauns. Next, keep educating yourself about St. Patrick’s Day and learn if it’s St. Patty’s or St. Paddy’s.

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Emma Taubenfeld
Emma Taubenfeld is an assistant editor for Reader’s Digest who focuses on digital lifestyle topics such as memes, social media captions, pick-up lines, and cute pets. When she’s not working, you can find Emma reading corny young adult novels, creating carefully curated playlists, and figuring out how to spice up boxed mac and cheese.