12 History Lessons About St. Patrick’s Day You Didn’t Learn in School
The day we associate with massive amounts of beer drinking actually started as a religious holiday and—spoiler alert—St. Patrick wasn’t even Irish!
St. Patrick wasn’t Irish
Although Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland, he was actually born in Roman-occupied Britain in the fourth century to wealthy parents who might have converted to the Christian faith for the tax break.
Don’t miss these other St. Patrick’s Day “facts” that are actually false.
He didn’t go to Ireland by choice
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The young Patrick was kidnapped and sold into slavery by Irish raiders who robbed his family home when he was only 16 years old. Most historians think the young Patrick was enslaved in County Mayo near Killala where he would have done the solitary work of tending to sheep. It was here, in forced exile, that he reclaimed the Christian faith he was born into.
St. Patrick did not chase snakes out of Ireland
Contrary to popular lore, there aren’t even any snakes native to Ireland; instead, the snakes may have been a symbol for Druids and Pagans that lived there at the time. Though St. Patrick did not introduce Christianity to the country, he is credited with converting many to the religion.
St. Patrick invented the Celtic cross
Many Irish still practiced a nature-based religion and he used the symbols of their traditional faith, like the sun that he overlaid on the cross, to teach them about their new Christian one. He also used the symbol of fire to start the practice of celebrating Easter with bonfires. Find out the truth behind other Easter myths and legends.
St. Patrick is not an official saint
St. Patrick’s Day falls on the anniversary of Patrick’s death on March 17 in the fifth century. His followers in Ireland began to celebrate his feast day on that day during the ninth and tenth centuries, even though he was never formally canonized by a pope.
You used to celebrate the day in church
Since St. Patrick’s Day historically falls during the Christian holy month of Lent, people would go to morning mass before afternoon and evening festivities. And, because many Christians fast from red meat and sometimes alcohol, Christian leaders still give special dispensation to enjoy corned beef and Guinness just for the day.
The original color for St. Patrick’s Day was blue
St. Patrick is actually associated with the color blue, and his priestly vestments are painted that hue in many portraits of him. But after the Order of St. Patrick chose green as their official color, people celebrate by “the wearing of the green.” (Here’s where you can learn more about why we wear green on St. Patrick’s Day.) In an extreme example of this, the Chicago River has been dyed green every year since 1962.
The parade thing is American, not Irish
The first St. Patrick’s Day parade was actually held in the United States, not Ireland. Irish soldiers serving in the British army marched through the streets of New York, accompanied by traditional Irish music on that day in 1762 to celebrate solidarity with both of their homelands.
New York City’s parade is the oldest in the world
Started in 1848, by Irish Aid societies that helped Irish immigrants families in the city, the New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade is now the largest parade in the United States wrapping it’s way around 1.5 miles of the city. It’s joined by parades in other American cities including Chicago and Boston.
The parade has a political history
Prejudice against Irish Catholics was rampant in the United States since they emigrated to the country after the Potato Famine in 1845. They used the parades to show their solidarity and call for social change. When President Harry S. Truman marched in the New York City parade in 1948, Irish Americans had finally arrived.
St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated all around the world
Although historically celebrated in countries with larger Irish immigrant communities including the United States, Australia, and Canada, St. Patrick’s Day is now celebrated in countries as far-flung as Japan, Singapore, and Russia. Check out these photos of St. Patrick’s Day celebrations around the world.
It wasn’t until 1995 that the Irish changed their tune.
Since the holiday fell on the Christian holy month of Lent, pubs were closed on St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland. But the Irish government changed these laws in the ’90s, to improve the economy through tourism. Since then, millions of people celebrate the St. Patrick’s Festival in Dublin. (Check out these other mind-blowing facts about the month of March.)