Nearly 12 percent of Americans, and more than 80 million worldwide claim
to be of Irish ancestry. That gives a lot of people a pretty good excuse
to rock shamrocks and down a pint or two of Guinness on March 17. But
beyond the parades and partying at the pub, how much do these lads and
lasses really know about St. Patrick’s Day? Here are a few St. Patrick’s
Day facts to consume along with all that corned beef and cabbage Friday.
Not native to the Emerald Isle. St. Patrick wasn’t Irish and wasn’t born in Ireland. His parents
were Roman citizens who lived in Wales, where Patrick was born in 385
AD. Patrick died March 17, 461 AD, which is the holy day observed by the
A religious experience. When he was 16, Patrick was kidnapped and sold into slavery by Irish marauders.
During his enslavement he formed his religious beliefs and after escaping
back to England was ordained as a priest. Patrick later returned to Ireland
to convert the Irish Celtic pagans to Christianity.
Shamrocks and snakes. The shamrock symbol associated with St. Patrick’s was used as a
teaching tool to explain the Holy Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit)
to the pagan Irish. Legend credits St. Patrick with driving the snakes
out of Ireland, but as there never where any snakes to begin with, the
reptiles were more likely a metaphor for ridding the country of pagan
beliefs and practices.
Celebrating St. Patrick. St. Patrick’s Day became an official Christian feast day in the
early 17th century but did not become a national holiday in Ireland until
1903. The first largely public celebration of St. Patrick’s Day
took place in Boston in 1737, and the first St. Patrick’s Day parade
stepped off in New York City in 1762, when Irish soldiers serving in the
English military marched through the city to celebrate the religious feast
day and their Irish roots. The first St. Patrick’s Day parade in
Ireland was held in Dublin in 1931. And celebrating St. Patrick with a
pint of Guinness wasn’t possible in Ireland until 1970, as Irish
pubs were required by law to be closed March 17.
Speaking of Guinness…Sales of the black beer soar on St. Patrick’s Day, when the brewer
estimates 13 million pints are consumed worldwide — many of them
to wash down a hearty helping of corned beef and cabbage. Popular St.
Patrick’s Day fare for Irish-Americans, more than 26 billion pounds
of beef and two billion pounds of cabbage are produced in the U.S. each year.
Green waters flow in Chicago. It’s easy being green on St. Patrick’s Day, particularly in
Chicago where the city dyes its river that color in honor of the holiday.
This tradition began in 1962 when the parade organizer, head of a plumbers’
union, noticed that the dye that had been used to find sources of river
pollution stained his clothing green. He thought it would be a great idea
to use enough dye to turn the whole river green for Chi-town’s St.
Patrick’s Day celebration. The dye lasts for about five hours. Researchers
say the environmental impact of the dye is less than that of the pollution
from sewage-treatment plants.