American St. Patrick’s Day Traditions

by Anne Flannery

Mar 7, 2018

St. Patrick’s Day © Oleksandra Naumenko |

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St. Patrick’s Day is a well-known holiday in the United States. For as long as most of us can remember, March 17 has been a day for people to attend parades, dress in green and possibly imbibe too much alcohol. What are the differences between this holiday in Ireland and the United States? And do we really know the story of its namesake?

According to countless articles written on the subject, St. Patrick’s Day is not traditionally a rowdy day in Ireland. It is better known for its religious significance and involves going to mass and almost no corned beef whatsoever.

St. Patrick himself had a difficult time of it in the country he is credited with converting to Christianity. Living during the fifth century, Patrick was kidnapped into slavery and worked in Ireland for six or so years before he was able to escape back to Britain and his family. Once safely there, he was compelled to return to Ireland as a missionary. Even though St. Patrick drove the snakes (read: sin) out of Ireland, his feast day in the United States is not nearly as penitent as his origin story.

The American tradition stems from a growing ethnic pride that steadily escalated throughout the mid-20th century while hitting its heyday after World War II. Celebrating Irish-American culture was a big departure from the treatment these immigrants received during the early part of the century. As a result, an embrace of all things stereotypically Irish was born. Drinking Irish beer and whiskey, eating corned beef and cabbage, wearing green and dancing in the streets are all appropriate St. Patrick’s Day activities. Chicago dyes its river green and Boston even has an Irish Heritage trail to walk. But no matter where you are, at the very least, you can learn how to say, Sláinte and raise a glass of Guinness in celebration.

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