Today, all across the United States and in many corners of the globe, millions of people will be Irish for just one day. But, why? Before we get to that, let’s dive into the history of the real St. Patrick.
St. Patrick was actually British by birth (gasp!), Roman British that is, and as a youth he was kidnapped by Irish marauders. Over the next several years, he worked as a shepherd and turned to religion to seek comfort (so the story goes). By the time he escaped and headed back to England, he was a devout Catholic. The tale goes that he had a dream where an angel told him to return to Ireland as a missionary.
He took this dream to heart and returned to the Emerald Isle using his familiarity with the culture and language teach Christianity. Different from other missionaries, he taught by weaving Christian belief into native Irish pagan stories. St. Patrick is credited with taking the pagan symbol of the sun and adding it to the Christian cross to create the Celtic Cross. He also, supposedly, introduced the shamrock as the symbol for the Holy Trinity for Irish Catholics. March 17th is his Feast Day, which marks the date of his death and why we celebrate today.
So, why is his Feast Day so popular in the U.S.? Well, consider the massive amount of Irish immigrants that came to this country. In the 1700s, Irish soldiers fought with the British during the Revolutionary War and actually marched in St. Patrick Day parades. With the potato famine of the mid-1800s an estimated one million Irish migrated to the U.S., notably Boston, Chicago, and Philadelphia. Today, almost 40 million U.S. citizens claim Irish heritage and this ancestral pride lends itself to ubiquitous (and often wild) celebration on St. Patrick’s Day.
- Chicago is synonymous with Irish pride and St. Patrick’s Day offers up some unique festivities. Even though the parade is the Saturday before and the river gets dyed green that same day, there are still plenty of things to do on March 17th in Second City.
- Since 1762, New York has hosted a St. Patrick’s Day Parade. If you want a pint of Guinness, there are probably hundreds of Irish bars to choose from and this list should get you started. I can personally vouch for the local color of McSorley’s and Puck Fair (so sad that they are closing).
- Auckland, New Zealand makes the list because they are the largest city to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day first, so if you want to celebrate in multiple time zones start here. Ever cooler? The Sky Tower goes green! Having been to the top of the Tower, I can assure you that is a LOT cooler than it sounds.
- Our neighbors to the north make the list, especially Montreal and this city has held a St. Patrick’s parade every single year since 1842.
- Finally, no list would be complete without Boston. From the parade in ‘Southie’ to Irish pub crawls to the Irish Heritage Trail, Boston is the heart of American Irish culture.
So there you go, a brief history of St. Patrick’s Day and some places to indulge your inner Irish. Lá Fhéile Pádraig Sona Duit!