From its beginnings as a religious feast day, St. Patrick’s Day has become a celebration of all things Irish. The holiday commemorating Saint Patrick officially happens on March 17, but St. Patrick’s Day Parades and St. Patrick’s Day Parties often happen on a weekend near the official date.
St. Patrick’s Day History
The real Saint Patrick wasn’t born in Ireland, but in Roman Britain in the late fourth century. Captured at the age of sixteen and held as a slave in Ireland for over a decade, Patrick escaped to Gaul and became a priest. Despite his years of servitude, he’d developed an abiding love for the people of Ireland and returned there to bring Christianity to the Emerald Isle.
Shamrocks are the symbol most associated with St. Patrick because he used the plant’s three leaves to illustrate the Catholic doctrine of the Trinity. Although four leaf clovers are considered lucky, they aren’t the same as St. Patrick’s shamrock. Authentic or not, four-leaf clover decorations look just as festive.
Despite its celebratory atmosphere, this holiday became known beyond Ireland’s shores for a grim reason. The Great Famine that struck Ireland in the middle of the nineteenth century sent hungry emigrants fleeing Ireland. As tragic as the famine was, the world is richer today thanks to the spread of Irish culture.
St. Patrick’s Day Parades
One of the most popular ways to celebrate the saint is with a parade. Floats decked in green, white, and orange bear riders dressed as leprechauns or wearing St. Patrick’s Day costumes featuring the ubiquitous shamrocks. At some parades, riders hand out cabbages and potatoes to the crowd; these favorite Irish ingredients are later cooked up and served as a St. Patrick’s Day dinner of Irish stew. At other parades, it’s tradition to exchange a kiss for a St. Patrick’s Day gift of a paper flower or strand of plastic beads.
Cities with large Irish populations generally host the largest parades. Boston, Chicago, and New York City host extravagant parades, while New Orleans and Savannah feature many smaller parades to celebrate the holiday.
St. Patrick’s Day Parties
For those who prefer a more private celebration, parties are also common on St. Patrick’s Day. Irish music and a menu of Irish dishes help set the tone, but a proper St. Patrick’s Day party isn’t complete without a selection of Irish beers. Other traditional drinks include Irish whiskey, Irish coffee, or commonplace cocktails with a splash of green coloring.
Beer and whiskey work for adults’ parties, but the holiday is a favorite of children, too. Favorite non-alcoholic drinks include limeade and punch served with green-tinted cherries. St. Patrick’s Day cupcakes topped with green icing will make both children and sweet-toothed adults happy.
Party games like bending backward to discover how to kiss the Blarney Stone or trying out a few steps of Irish dancing go over well with kids old enough to appreciate Irish history. Younger children can enjoy a taste of Irish culture with St. Patrick’s Day-themed versions of musical chairs or a “pot of gold” coin toss.
Whether celebrating with the whole community or at a small party, everyone is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day.