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St. Patrick’s Day: facts and folklore

Celebrating already, waiting for the parade
Celebrating already, waiting for the parade
Photo by Ramin Talaie/Getty Images

St. Patrick’s Day is March 17th. It’s an international celebration observed by all types of activities and events. How much do you actually know about it and the folklore that surrounds it?

The shamrock is a very popular Irish symbol. However, it is not the national one of Ireland! Since before medieval times, the harp has been their emblem, adopted as the country's symbol in 1921 when Ireland became an independent country.

The odds of finding a four-leaf clover are about one in 10,000.

Green was not the color originally associated with St. Patrick. Although Ireland is “the Emerald Isle,” that reputation came later. The proper color is blue. Several works of art showed him wearing almost the exact same shade of it. Like the harp, it was used on gravestones, manuscripts, flags, and coats-of-arms.

Legend says St. Patrick rid Ireland of snakes. Some translations say it was toads. However, there is no evidence there was ever any of either in Ireland.

There are approximately 34.7 million U.S. citizens who have Irish ancestry. That’s more than seven times the population of Ireland (4.2 million). From 1903 to 1970, St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland was a religious observance that banned alcoholic beverages.

The first St. Patrick’s Day parade was held in the United States on March 17, 1762. Then, Irish soldiers who were serving in the British army marched in New York City. It has dramatically grown in size and scope to parades in over 100 U.S. cities.

Celebrants further mark the holiday with specialty foods (i.e. corned beef and cabbage), green food color in almost anything (like beer), events, games, performances, and songs.

People wear something green so they won’t get pinched. It's a tradition that began in the early 1700s in the United States. There are two explanations that illuminate the custom. First, it’s a punishment to those who forget to honor “The Emerald Isle.”

The second one is based on the superstition leprechauns (and other pixies) pinched anyone they could see. However, a person wearing green was invisible to them.

Throughout the world, people of all religions, ages, and walks of life celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. Other countries (besides the U.S. and Ireland) that mark the day include Australia, Japan, Russia, and Singapore. The best part is the Irish are ready, willing, and very happy for you to “steal” their heritage for the day.

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