March 17 is Saint Patrick’s Day. For many of us that means enjoying a nice glass or two of green beer (or green food in general – McDonald’s has even brought back its Shamrock Shake for the occasion), dressing up head to toe in green, and enjoying the Saint Patrick’s Day parade. For Irish Americans, Saint Patrick’s Day is a time to celebrate their Irish heritage and a time for religious observations. But how many of us know about the history of Saint Patrick’s Day or the reason behind its traditions?
Saint Patrick’s Day takes its name from the patron saint of Ireland. Most of what we know about the historical Saint Patrick comes from a Latin work called the Declaration,which he allegedly wrote. According to the Declaration, the historical Saint Patrick was born in Roman Britain in late 300 AD. After being captured by Irish pirates at age 16, Patrick converted to Christianity, which he would go on to study far into his twenties after returning to Britain. Eventually, Patrick returned to Ireland where he acted as a Christian missionary, spreading Christ’s teachings across the islands.
The holiday itself was founded in Ireland during the early 17th century to celebrate Saint Patrick and his teachings. Tradition holds that Saint Patrick died on March 17; hence a feast day being held on that date. This feast day was first introduced to the American colonies by Irish immigrants in the early 18th century and turned into a full-blown celebration of Irish culture in the 19th century by a mass influx of Irish immigrants fleeing the Great Famine for the United States. By the early 20th century, the feast day became a national holiday in Ireland and came to be known as St. Patrick’s Day.
So, why all the green? That has its origins in Irish history too. Green is, of course, the color of the three-leafed clover, which Saint Patrick is said to have used to illustrate the Holy Trinity. It’s also the color sported by Irish nationalists looking to establish themselves separately from Britain, giving rise to many patriotic poems and ballads like “The Wearing of the Green”. As for pinching people who don’t wear green, that tradition was started by American revelers in the 1700s, as a reminder that leprechauns would sneak up and pinch anyone who didn’t wear green.
The traditional Saint Patrick’s Day parade also goes a while back. The first recorded St. Patrick’s parade was first held in 1601 in Spain, under the direction of an Irish vicar, and the parades were held in North America at the beginning of the 18th century. Although Saint Patrick’s Day itself is heavily rooted in Irish culture, the parade itself did not spread to Ireland until the early 20th century.
For better or worse, Saint Patrick’s Day is also associated heavily with alcohol consumption in the United States – in fact, it is the fourth most popular drinking holiday in the United States, coming up right behind New Year’s Eve, Christmas Day, and Independence Day. There is a story behind this one too – Lenten food and alcohol restrictions were temporarily lifted during the Saint Patrick’s Day feast, allowing those celebrating to enjoy themselves to their heart’s content.
Unfortunately, with excessive alcohol consumption comes the risk of alcohol-induced fatalities. Indeed, Saint Patrick’s Day is another holiday with a high incidence of DUI arrests. From 2012 to 2016, there were 269 recorded drunk driving fatalities on Saint Patrick’s Day, and 3/4 of these fatal drunk driving crashes involved a driver who was two times over the legal limit. Be safe and mindful this coming Tuesday – use a designated driver or make use of rideshare services like Uber or Lyft.
Many Americans might not be aware of the reasons behind many Saint Patrick’s Day traditions, but the holiday enjoys plenty of popularity nevertheless. There are plenty of ways to get your Irish on this coming Tuesday – why not give some a look?
Here is a list of things to do on Saint Patrick’s Day in Atlanta, along with another great lineup of events over in Roswell, and another selection of Saint Patrick’s-related celebrations in the Atlanta area. Unfortunately, the Saint Patrick’s Day Parade in Atlanta has been cancelled due to concerns over the COVID-19 outbreak. However, there are still plenty of other fun ways to celebrate this March 17th.
DTLT will be updating this list of events as best as possible! Please check back to confirm the event you choose to attend is still a GREEN light this Saint Patrick’s Day!