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.
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.
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.
As you might expect, St. 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.
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. People like Miracle on 34th Street actress Maureen O’Hara and Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York, have served as grand marshal. In 2020, the parade was canceled for the first time in its centuries-old history due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
5. Chicago literally runs green for St. Patrick’s Day.
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 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 25 yards between two pubs. Today, Hot Springs, Arkansas, claims the title for brevity—a mere 98 feet.
7. There’s a reason for the shamrocks.
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, the island 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.
Corned beef and cabbage, which has become a 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.
In 2017, it was estimated that 13 million pints of Guinness would be consumed worldwide on St. Patrick’s Day. And in 2022, it was estimated that in America, overall beer sales would be up 174 percent. In fact, it’s the biggest day for bars in the country. And in general, in 2023, it was expected that Americans would spend $6.86 billion celebrating the holiday.
11. St. Patrick’s Day could have been Saint Maewyn’s Day.
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.
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.
You can’t attend a St. Patrick’s Day event without hearing a cry of “Erin go Bragh.” The phrase is a corruption of the Irish Éirinn go Brách, which means roughly “Ireland forever.”
A version of this story ran in 2019; it has been updated for 2023.