St. Patrick's Day 2019: 5 Things You May Not Know
St. Patrick’s Day events have been underway for the past week in the run-up to the actual day, Sunday, March 17. Parades will be held in most major U.S. cities in what has become a celebration of all things Irish.
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Among the most well-known celebrations are parades in New York City and Chicago, which draw around 2 million spectators annually. Both parades will be held on Saturday, and the Chicago River will be dyed green for the festivities. The smaller but popular South Side Irish Parade in Chicago takes place on Sunday.
St. Patrick’s Day, named in honor of Ireland’s patron saint, has become an Americanized holiday celebrated in rollicking fashion, usually with a lot of drinking. But in its purest form on the Emerald Isle, it was a solemn, religious holiday honoring St. Patrick.
The earliest St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in the United States were in the 18th Century — 1737 in Massachusetts and 1762 in New York — but the mass popularity of the holiday began in the 19th Century with a wave of Irish immigrants following the potato famine.
They Irish were generally despised in Protestant America. Parades and other celebrations became a way for the Irish to assert their political and cultural presence. Eventually, St. Patrick’s Day evolved into one that celebrates Irish culture, history and traditions.
Some 32.7 million Americans claimed Irish ancestry in 2015, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, which said the number was more than seven times the population of Ireland itself.
There are some things you probably believe about St. Patrick’s Day that just aren’t true.
1. St. Patrick wasn’t Irish. Born into an aristocratic family in Roman Britain near the end the end of the 4th Century, he was kidnapped by Irish pirates as a teenager and forced into slavery. He did escape his captors and the Emerald Isle, but returned some years later as a missionary and converted large parts of the population to Christianity. He was named Ireland’s patron saint centuries after his death, which historians put around March 17, 461.
2. St. Patrick didn’t drive the snakes out of Ireland. It’s true there are no snakes in Ireland, but that’s because of the Ice Age, and not anything St. Patrick did, according to National Geographic. The Bible is liberally sprinkled with references of serpents to represent evil, and the myth is a metaphor adopted later to describe how St. Patrick drove paganism out of Ireland.
3. The original color associated with St. Patrick’s Day wasn’t green. St. Patrick’s blue was represented on ancient flags and much later on the armbands worn by members of the Irish Citizen Army in the 1916 Easter Uprising to end British rule. St. Patrick’s Day green appeared in the 1798 Irish Rebellion, when the shamrock was used as a symbol of nationalism. “Wearing of the green” similarly became commonplace. Green also symbolizes Ireland’s lush springtimes, and St. Patrick’s blue eventually faded away.
4. If you don’t wear green on St. Patrick’s Day, you’re likely to be pinched. What’s this all about? One of the most popular legends is that green is a defense against leprechauns, and the pinch is a reminder of the mayhem they can cause.
5. Drinking wasn’t always a thing on St. Patrick’s Day. In fact, it wasn’t until the 1960s that the Irish began celebrating St. Patrick’s Day with a drink in a pub. Ireland is heavily Catholic and St. Patrick’s Day falls during Lent. While Catholics were allowed to set aside their restrictions on alcohol intake on St. Patrick’s Day, the idea of whooping it up all night was frowned upon, and Ireland introduced a law requiring all pubs to close on March 17. The law was repealed in 1961.
Some argue the emphasis on alcohol consumption plays on one of the most negative Irish stereotypes. A poll by iReach Insights poll conducted in Ireland in 2018 found that 79 percent of those surveyed think St. Paddy’s Day feeds negative stereotypes of boozing.