Everyone’s Irish on St. Patrick’s Day

For many people—including me—St. Patrick’s Day is a reason to wear green and perhaps down a few brews dyed green with friends and family. This cultural and religious celebration is held annually on March 17, the traditional death date of St. Patrick, the foremost patron saint of Ireland.

Since the early 17th century, St. Patrick’s Day was made an official Christian feast day. It’s observed by the Catholic Church, the Anglican Communion, the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Lutheran Church—and while church services may be a part of the celebration, there is a longstanding tradition of consuming alcohol on St. Paddy’s Day.

Yes, it’s St. Paddy’s Day, not St. Patty’s Day. Paddy is an Irish male name, derived from Padraig. Patty is a shortened version of Patricia.

My “Green” Memories

Although I grew up just outside a city that takes St. Patrick’s Day quite seriously—even dyeing the Chicago River green—I don’t recall doing anything in terms of celebration as a kid, other than finding something green to wear to school. Perhaps we cut shamrocks out of green construction paper in elementary school.

Speaking of shamrocks, do you know they are three-leaf clovers—a symbol for the Holy Trinity: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit? In the early days of Ireland, Celtic priests believed by carrying a three-leaf clover, they could see evil spirits coming and have a chance to escape in time. Four-leaf clovers were Celtic charms, felt to offer magical protection and ward off bad luck.

But I digress. Given that my family’s roots are German and Russian—not to mention we’re Jewish—St. Patrick’s Day had little significance for us. No corned beef and cabbage, shepherd’s pie, Irish stew or Irish soda bread in my home.

During my college years, St. Patrick’s Day became what it is for many people: an excuse to party. I recall downing my fair share of green beer, going along with the “everyone’s Irish on St. Patrick’s Day” adage. As a 20-something, my friends and I continued to celebrate on March 17 by drinking, but as time went on, my partying days became few and far between.

Now, many, many years later, I may remember to wear something green on St. Patrick’s Day—but there have also been years where I forgot, and only realized my faux pas after seeing a whole bunch of others attired in green. You don’t usually see a lot of green clothing, especially on men.

This year, I thought about wearing my green short-sleeved shirt, but because it was a bit cool, I chose warmth over making a holiday statement. The only person who asked, “where’s your green?” was a homeless guy I see just about every day while walking my dog. Seems just about everyone is into St. Patrick’s Day in the U.S.

Cities like Chicago, Boston, and New York are well known for “going big” on March 17, but they’re not alone in “going Irish” for St. Paddy’s Day. Savannah, GA and Hot Springs, ARK are holiday hotspots, along with O’Neill, NE, home of the world’s largest shamrock.

Around the World

It’s no secret that St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in America are fueled by food and drink—especially the latter. I wondered if that holds true everywhere, so I researched some St. Patrick’s Day traditions around the world. Right away, I learned is St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated in more countries around the world than any other national festival. Remember that if you’re ever a Jeopardy contestant! Here are some customs for a handful of them.

Ireland. You really can’t discuss St. Patrick’s Day without mentioning its birthplace. However, you might be surprised to learn that until the 1970s, pubs were closed on March 17 and the holiday was a more solemn occasion. It was thanks to Irish immigrants in the U.S. and elsewhere that it evolved from a religious holiday into a secular celebration of all things Irish. Since the mid-1990s—in part to promote tourism and boost the economy—the Irish government has sponsored a multi-day St. Patrick’s Festival in Dublin that features a parade and a variety of performances and activities, and similar events are held in other parts of the country.

Russia. This is probably not a place most of us equate with St. Patrick’s Day, but they do celebrate there. As a matter of fact, in Moscow, they “go green” for an entire week—with Irish dancing, green pints and a parade you have to see to believe, since it features distinctively weird costumes, sort of like a friendlier, daytime version of Halloween. You may also be surprised at the number of Irish pubs in Moscow, many of which offer specific St. Patrick’s Day events like Irish cuisine workshops and Irish craft beer tastings. And, Russians celebrate Irish filmmaking with an Irish Film Festival, which runs for 11 days in March, including St. Patrick’s Day.

Australia. Those who live “down under” are well known for their celebratory nature—so it should be no surprise that they wholeheartedly embrace St. Patrick’s Day festivities. Parades are held in cities such as Sydney and Brisbane that feature floats displaying the Irish flag and people clad in traditional Irish costumes or dressed in green. Also dressed for the occasion is the iconic Sydney Opera House, bathed in green light. Some businesses and organizations hold St. Patrick’s Day breakfasts and lunches where lucky door prizes are given out and Irish food and drinks are served, and the partying moves to the pubs at night, where local bands play Irish music and green drinks are served.

Japan. The land of the rising sun certainly celebrates St. Patrick’s Day, starting with the I Love Ireland Festival, an event featuring live music, bagpipe performances, traditional Irish dancing, parades and more. Speaking of parades, the Tokyo St. Patrick’s Day Parade is the country’s biggest, but just one of many; St. Patrick’s Day parades also take place in Yokohama, Osaka, Takamatsu, Okinawa and five other Japanese cities. Like celebrants around the world, Japanese revelers consume plenty of Guinness around St. Patrick’s Day, but they may also choose something a bit more unique: green tea-style beers, which are available in original, dark and non-alcoholic versions.

India. India is a festive country; its residents love to adopt new cultures and celebrate life as much as they can—so it should be little surprise that they embrace St. Patrick’s Day. For starters, the Gateway of India in Mumbai is bathed in green for St. Patrick’s Day, and the Irish pubs in the country’s major cities stock up on Murphy’s stout for revelers. Indians also wear green, decorate their workplaces with green, and sing and dance in lieu of actual parades.

Montserrat. This tiny Caribbean island is one of two countries—with Ireland—for which St. Patrick’s Day is a public holiday, but not for the traditional reason. March 17 is the anniversary of an unsuccessful slave revolt against European whites who colonized the island in the 17th century, seven of 10 who were Irish. Today, St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated with a weeklong festival of independence.

What does St. Patrick’s Day mean to you? We’d love to hear about your traditions and the memories you have of putting on the green!

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