On St. Patrick’s Day most Americans claim to be Irish for a 24-hour period. It’s not a bank holiday, but it’s a holiday people take very seriously. It has a long history, but all the traditions and customs have changed over time — some of which are unexpected. Here are a few fascinating facts about St. Patrick’s Day you might not know.
Color of a Nation Just about everyone knows you have to wear green on St. Patrick’s Day or you’ll get pinched. There are many explanations on how this came about. One theory is that it’s worn by fairies and immortals and by farmers to help their crops grow. Another reason is that the Irish tricksters –leprechauns– can’t see you if you’re wearing green. If you’re not wearing green they can see you and they’ll pinch you. A more plausible explanation is that St. Patrick used the three leaves on a shamrock to explain the Holy Trinity so people started wearing green shamrocks. However wearing green started, it evolved into a symbol of pride and nationalism and why we wear green to honor the Irish now.
Mythical Creatures Here’s a little known fact about the leprechauns: they’re protected by European law to prevent extinction. The leprechaun is on a list of items in an area near Carlingford, Ireland designated to preserve the community’s heritage, culture and folklore. It is on a site where a leprechaun was allegedly spotted in 1989.
Fol-caloric Fare For St. Patrick’s, corned beef and cabbage grace the plates of revelers, but you won’t find it in Ireland. It’s actually an Irish-American dish derived from an Irish tradition. In Ireland, they eat bacon and cabbage. Their bacon is a bit different from what we are familiar with. It’s “back bacon” which is a traditional British cut. It’s boiled along with cabbage and other root vegetables. Pigs and cabbage were easy to procure in Ireland, but cows were not. When Irish immigrants started to settle in America, beef was what was available. There are a couple of explanations for how corned beef replaced bacon: some say in the early 20th century Irish laborers were lured to bars that offered a free meal of corned beef and cabbage. Others say early Irish immigrants were drawn to their Jewish comrades’ corned beef because it was comparable to the back bacon they were accustomed to.
Ritual Processions Cities all over the country hold parades every St. Patrick’s Day to honor the Irish. However, the St. Patrick’s Day parade did not start as an Irish tradition. It’s a religious holiday — a day of feast — and in Ireland the day is spent at church and with the family. The first record of St. Patrick’s Day parade was in 1762 when a group of Irish men marched to a tavern in lower Manhattan in New York City. Today it’s the biggest St. Patrick’s Day parade; it attracts more than two million spectators every year.
Pie-Eyed St. Patrick’s Day falls during Lent, the six week period before Easter in which people of Christian denominations give up indulgences. St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland is used as a break from the fast in which people can partake in excesses like drinking alcohol or eating chocolate; however, until the 1970s, by law pubs in Ireland were closed for the holiday. So, though it’s a big drinking holiday in the United States, beer is not quite as important for St. Patrick’s Day revelry in Ireland.
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