Whether you’re Irish or not, there’s a temptation to take part in celebrating St Patrick’s Day – a beloved tradition worldwide that sees thousands of people coming together to drink, dress in green, eat traditional food from Ireland and generally celebrate Irish heritage.
What is St Patrick’s Day, and where does it come from?
St Patrick’s Day, or the Feast of St Patrick, is a celebration in honour of the patron saint of Ireland, St Patrick.
The day of celebration, which marks the day of St Patrick’s death, was originally a religious holiday meant to celebrate the arrival of Christianity in Ireland, and made official by the Catholic Church in the early 17th century.
Observed by the Catholic Church, the Anglican Communion, the Eastern Orthodox Church, and the Lutheran Church, the day was typically observed with services, feasts and alcohol.
Consumption has always been an integral part of St Patrick’s Day, as historically the day was celebrated with a day-long lift of the Lenten restrictions on eating and drinking alcohol – which has contributed to the present-day drinking.
Interestingly, St Patrick wasn’t actually Irish. He is believed to have been born in either Scotland or Wales and sold into slavery in Ireland as a child.
In 1903, St Patrick’s Day became an official public holiday in Ireland.
This year, and every year, it is celebrated on 17 March. St Patrick’s Day 2021 falls on a Wednesday.
What are shamrocks and leprechauns and why are they depicted in the celebrations?
Although St Patrick’s Day has mostly evolved into a cultural celebration of Irish heritage, certain traditions such as wearing green and shamrocks have prevailed.
We wear green to celebrate because green is the colour associated with Catholics in Ireland.
However, green wasn’t associated with the holiday until the 19th century. Prior to that, blue was often worn to celebrate.
Shamrocks – clover-like plants with three leaves – were, according to legend, used by St Patrick to explain the Holy Trinity to the pagan Irish.
Leprechauns, a mythical type of fairy in Irish folklore, also make an appearance during St Patrick’s Day celebrations.
Often depicted as little men, leprechauns are usually pictured with a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow.
They are mischievous fairies known for playing jokes on people. But legend has it, if you catch one he will give you three wishes.
Is it a bank holiday in the UK, or a federal holiday in the US?
Sorry, you’ll have to let your hair down in your own time.
It’s not a bank holiday in the UK, and it’s not a federal holiday in the US. It is, however, a national holiday in Ireland.
What do people do on St Patrick’s Day and how do they celebrate?
The holiday has evolved into a mostly cultural celebration of Irish heritage marked with a day of drinking, green clothing and Irish-themed parades – though many of those won't be able to go ahead as planned due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
In addition to green clothing, beer, occasionally dyed green, and Irish whiskey are typically consumed to celebrate St Paddy’s Day.
In the United States, Irish American people usually indulge in corned beef and cabbage.
But in Ireland and elsewhere in celebration of the holiday, typical Irish foods such as steak and Guinness pie or Irish soda bread are eaten.
How is St Patrick’s Day celebrated around the globe?
Ireland obviously hosts the longest St Patrick’s Day celebrations, with a week of festivities and the annual parade in Dublin drawing more than one million people.
In Great Britain, the day is celebrated with the third-largest parade in the world, after Dublin and New York.
The parade takes place in Birmingham but celebrations occur all over the country.
In New York City, the “official” St Patrick’s Day Parade, founded in 1762, typically attracts two million people.
While not a legal holiday, the day is widely recognised and celebrated all over the country.
Other large St Patrick’s Day parades are held annually in Asia, the Caribbean and Canada.
To mark the day, notable landmarks are lit up in green or dyed green.
Last year, the Sydney Opera House, the Space Needle in Seattle, the London Eye, the Empire State Building, the Chicago river and hundreds of other landmarks were lit green in honour of the patron saint.
Happy St Patrick’s Day!
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies