St. Patrick’s day: An American Tradition


When most people think of St. Patrick’s day, they think of the color green or four leaf clovers, and they get excited for the annual pinch fest to begin. But not many people think about the history behind the green.

Historically, America has been referred to as a “melting pot” because many people from different cultures and ethnicities came together to create a unique identity within our country. This identity largely contributes to the history of how St. Patrick’s day has come to be celebrated in America.

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BYU students Holly Weatherston, Shelbi Clason and Emily Kimball celebrate St. Patricks day at a parade in England.
This Irish holiday has both a religious and cultural background. St. Patrick was one of the first successful Christian missionaries in history and after years of unfortunate events, came to believe it was his destiny to Christianize Ireland. By the time he died, almost all of Ireland was Christian. After his death, the Irish started to pay homage to him by holding a large celebration in his name and eating a traditional meal of Irish bacon and cabbage.

Carly Weller, a junior from Holladay, was able to witness firsthand how the Irish celebrated St. Patrick’s day last winter semester as she studied abroad in England.

“Back home on St. Patrick’s day, I always tried to wear a barely visible amount of green so I could pinch everyone who wrongly pinched me, but in Ireland, everything was green,” Weller said. “There were stores lining every street just filled with green shirts, pants, hats, necklaces and every sort of green accessory.”

Weller also said a lot of Irish natives were outside lining the streets of Dublin, the country’s capitol, in preparation for the parade which featured St. Patrick himself.

“There’s a huge parade on the main street and it is filled with young children with their parents, and young teenagers with their friends,” Weller said.

St. Patrick’s day in America isn’t quite the bacon and cabbage event it use to be in Ireland. Early Irish settlers, who came to America mostly as indentured servants, brought the traditional Irish feast day to the country. Today, millions of Americans celebrate the day to honor their ancestry and Irish heritage. And those without a particular connection to the Irish still enjoy green eggs and ham, along with pinching those not wearing green.

Shelbi Clason, a junior from Pleasant Grove who also studied abroad in England, said the Irish celebration on St. Patrick’s day is much different than here in the United States.

“[The Irish] start preparing days before St. Patrick’s day arrives,” Clason said. “There are stores specifically for decorations for St. Patrick’s day. They even had a couple of people dressed up like leprechauns on a street corner. At night they had a concert where they had Irish music playing and they had someone teaching the crowd how to river dance. It was fantastic.”

Clason said the celebration on March 17 itself gets even crazier.

“On St. Patrick’s day there’s a parade that we all waited for two and a half hours for, and it is very similar to something we called a Tim Burton parade,” Clason said. “St. Patrick is in it, of course, and then other weird, bizarre objects and creatures. People watching the parade are all decked out in festive clothing, tattoos, headbands and glasses.”

  • The first St. Patrick’s day parade was not in Ireland. It was in Boston in 1737.
  • 34 million (11.5 percent) of Americans have Irish ancestry, according to the 2003 U.S. census. The population of Ireland is only 4.1 million.
  • The real color of St. Patrick is blue. Green was worn by fairies and immortals in Irish legends, and by people to encourage their crops to grow. The color of St. Patrick’s day, green,  was born in the 19th century.
  • Chicago dyes its rivers green on St. Patrick’s day.
  • In Seattle, there is a celebration to place green stripes on the road for St. Patrick’s day.
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