13 Lucky Facts About St. Patrick's Day

iStock/Funwithfood
iStock/Funwithfood

Before you don your "Kiss me, I'm Irish" tee and set out to find a perfect pour of Guinness (or four), read up on some history of the day where we all claim to be at least a wee bit Irish.

1. We should really be wearing blue on St. Patrick's Day.

Vintage St. Patrick's Day postcard.

Saint Patrick himself would have to deal with pinching on his feast day. Though we've come to associate kelly green with the Irish and the holiday, the 5th-century saint's official color was "Saint Patrick's blue," a light shade of sky blue. The color green only became associated with the big day after it was linked to the Irish independence movement in the late 18th century.

2. St. Patrick wasn't Irish.

St. Patrick's Grave, Down Cathedral
Central Press/Getty Images

Although he made his mark by introducing Christianity to Ireland in the year 432, Patrick wasn't Irish himself. He was born to Roman parents in Scotland or Wales in the late 4th century.

3. St. Patrick's Day used to be a dry holiday.

A 1952 Guinness ad.
Picture Post/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

As you might expect, Saint Patrick's Day is a huge deal in his old stomping grounds. It's a national holiday in both Ireland and Northern Ireland, but up until the 1970s, pubs were closed on that day. (The one exception went to beer vendors at the big national dog show, which was always held on St. Patrick's Day.) Before that time, the saint's feast day was considered a more solemn, strictly religious occasion. Now, the country welcomes hordes of green-clad tourists for parades, drinks, and perhaps the reciting of a few limericks.

4. New York City's St. Patrick's Day parade has been happening since 1762.

St. Patrick's Day parade in New York City, 1960
Peter Keegan/Getty Images

New York City's St. Patrick's Day Parade is one of the world's largest parades. Since 1762, roughly 250,000 marchers have traipsed up 5th Avenue on foot—the parade still doesn't allow floats, cars, or other modern trappings. Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the Archbishop of New York; and Miracle on 34th Street actress Maureen O'Hara have served as Grand Marshal.

5. Chicago literally runs green for St. Patrick's Day.

Green Chicago River on St. Patrick's Day
Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

New York may have more manpower, but Chicago has a spectacle all its own. The city has been celebrating St. Patrick by dumping green dye into the Chicago River since 1962. And though the organizers won't reveal their exact formula, we do know that the orange powder used is dispersed through flour sifters by the local Plumbers Union.

6. For some St. Patrick's Day parades, it's the thought that counts.

Not every city goes all-out in its celebratory efforts. From 1999 to 2007, the Irish village of Dripsey proudly touted that it hosted the Shortest Saint Patrick's Day Parade in the World. The route ran for 26 yards between two pubs. Today, Hot Springs, Arkansas claims the title for brevity—its brief parade runs for 98 feet.

7. There's a reason for the shamrocks.

Vintage St. Patrick's Day postcard.
The Casas-Rodríguez Postcard Collection, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

How did the shamrock become associated with St. Patrick? According to Irish legend, the saint used the three-leafed plant (which is not to be confused with the four-leaf clover) as a metaphor for the Holy Trinity when he was first introducing Christianity to Ireland.

8. Cold weather helped St. Patrick's claim to fame.

In Irish lore, St. Patrick gets credit for driving all the snakes out of Ireland. Modern scientists suggest that the job might not have been too hard—according to the fossil record, Ireland has never been home to any snakes. Through the Ice Age, Ireland was too cold to host any reptiles, and the surrounding seas have staved off serpentine invaders ever since. Modern scholars think the "snakes" St. Patrick drove away were likely metaphorical.

9. There's no corn in that beef.

Vintage St. Patrick's Day postcard.

Corned beef and cabbage, which has become a traditional St. Patrick's Day staple for Irish Americans, doesn't have anything to do with the grain corn. Instead, it's a nod to the large grains of salt that were historically used to cure meats, which were also known as "corns."

10. Americans run up quite a bar tab on St. Patrick's Day.

Vintage St. Patrick's Day postcard.

All of the St. Patrick's Day revelry is great news for brewers. A 2012 estimate pegged the total amount Americans spent on beer for St. Paddy's celebrations at $245 million—and that's before tipping the bartender. Not only that, but Americans headed to Ireland were estimated to spend $955 million on flights, accommodations, and other tourism industry staples.

11. It could have been Saint Maewyn's Day.

Vintage
Vintage "Erin Go Bragh" postcard.
antifixus21, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

According to Irish legend, St. Patrick wasn't originally called Patrick. His birth name was Maewyn Succat, but he changed it to Patricius after becoming a priest.

12. There are no female leprechauns.

Vintage St. Patrick's Day postcard.
Don The UpNorth Memories Guy, Flickr // CC BY-ND-NC 2.0

Don’t be fooled by any holiday decorations showing lady leprechauns. In traditional Irish folk tales, there are no female leprechauns, only nattily attired little guys who spend their days making and mending shoes (meaning they earned that gold they're always guarding).

13. St. Patrick's Day lingo makes sense.

Vintage

You can't attend a St. Patrick’s Day event without hearing a cry of "Erin go Bragh." What's the phrase mean? It's a corruption of the Irish Éirinn go Brách, which means roughly "Ireland Forever."

Why Are There No Snakes in Ireland?

iStock
iStock

Legend tells of St. Patrick using the power of his faith to drive all of Ireland’s snakes into the sea. It’s an impressive image, but there’s no way it could have happened.

There never were any snakes in Ireland, partly for the same reason that there are no snakes in Hawaii, Iceland, New Zealand, Greenland, or Antarctica: the Emerald Isle is, well, an island.

Eightofnine via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Once upon a time, Ireland was connected to a larger landmass. But that time was an ice age that kept the land far too chilly for cold-blooded reptiles. As the ice age ended around 10,000 years ago, glaciers melted, pouring even more cold water into the now-impassable expanse between Ireland and its neighbors.

Other animals, like wild boars, lynx, and brown bears, managed to make it across—as did a single reptile: the common lizard. Snakes, however, missed their chance.

The country’s serpent-free reputation has, somewhat perversely, turned snake ownership into a status symbol. There have been numerous reports of large pet snakes escaping or being released. As of yet, no species has managed to take hold in the wild—a small miracle in itself.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

If March 15 Is the Ides of March, What Does That Make March 16?

iStock.com/bycostello
iStock.com/bycostello

Everyone knows that the soothsayer in William Shakespeare's Julius Caesar was talking about March 15 when he warned the Roman emperor to "beware the Ides of March." We also all know Caesar's response: "Nah, I gotta head into the office that day." But if March 15 is the Ides of March, what does that make March 16?

At the time of Caesar's assassination, Romans were using the Julian calendar (introduced by Julius Caesar himself). This was a modified version of the original Roman calendar, and it is very similar to the one we use today (which is called the Gregorian calendar). A major difference, however, was how Romans talked about the days.

Each month had three important dates: the Kalends (first day of the month), the Ides (the middle of the month), and the Nones (ninth day before the Ides, which corresponded with the first phase of the Moon). Instead of counting up (i.e., March 10, March 11, March 12), Romans kept track by counting backwards and inclusively from the Kalends, Ides, or Nones. March 10 was the sixth day before the Ides of March, March 11 was the fifth day before the Ides of March, and so on.

Because it came after the Ides, March 16 would’ve been referred to in the context of April: "The 17th day before the Kalends of April." The abbreviated form of this was a.d. XVII Kal. Apr., with "a.d." standing for ante diem, meaning roughly "the day before."

So, had Julius Caesar been murdered on March 16, the soothsayer's ominous warning would have been, "Beware the 17th day before the Kalends of April." Doesn't have quite the same ring to it.

This story first ran in 2016.

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