It's become commonplace in America for people to celebrate holidays of other cultures without knowing the actual history behind it. Irish or not, St. Patrick's Day is no exception. No matter your religion or ethnicity, you can find most people adorned in green and drinking beer on March 17th each year.

Although it has become heavily Americanized, the legend of St. Patrick serves as more than just a fun day of leprechaun hats and "Kiss Me, I'm Irish" buttons. Here's some fun facts to better understand why you're wearing shamrocks and stuck in parade traffic:


St. Patrick was not Irish.

In the fourth century, national borders were different than they are today, but Patrick was not born in Ireland. Until he was 16, he was raised in what would be known today as either England, Scotland, or Wales. It is difficult to say for sure because of the lack of definition in geography at the time. Because historians have argued over the descent of his parents (thought to be of Roman aristocracy), his family could have been of Celtic or modern-day Italian descent. His true ethnicity remains a mystery.

His real name was not Patrick.

There are few artifacts directly linked to St. Patrick, and although he signed his name in Latin as Patricius, other documents indicate that his birth name was actually Maewyn Succat.

He was enslaved by the Irish.

At the age of 16, Patrick was enslaved by the Irish who raided his home in the Roman British Isles. He was held captive for six years before he escaped back to modern-day England. He eventually returned to Ireland as a missionary.

The shamrock was not a symbol of Irish culture.

While the name "shamrock" is an Irish term for "little clover," the purpose of the symbol was more religious than cultural. St. Patrick used the three-leaf clover to explain the Holy Trinity in Christianity. He became a bishop and was named Ireland's patron saint after his death.

Green was not the traditional color.

Originally, knights in the Order of St. Patrick wore shades of blue, appropriately labeled, "St. Patrick's blue." It wasn't until the 18th century that green became the dominant color because it was used to represent the cause for Irish independence. Since then, most art depicts him in green because of his association of the shamrock with Irish Christianity.

Driving snakes out of the land was a metaphor.


When Patrick converted to Christianity, he devoted his life to converting other Pagans to Christianity as well. The legend of Patrick driving snakes out of Ireland was a reference to him driving "evil," non-Christians away (there were most likely no legitimate snakes involved).

Most of the "traditions" were founded in America.

After Irish immigrants came to America in the 18th century, they used the legend of St. Patrick to keep their culture alive. Following the Revolutionary War, Irish soldiers held the first parades. Corned beef and cabbage was an Irish American dish that became a holiday staple because it was all poor immigrants could afford. Additionally, the tradition of dyeing the Chicago River green in celebration began in 1962 (the original proposal wanted to dye part of Lake Michigan, but the Chicago River was chosen instead).

Ireland didn't drink to celebrate until the 1960s.

In 1903, Irish politician James O'Mara introduced a bill declaring St. Patrick's Day a national holiday. However, Ireland is heavily Catholic and March 17th falls during Lent, a season of spiritual discipline in Christianity. Although celebratory feasts and occasional drinks were still allowed, this resulted in a nation-wide law forcing pubs to close on St. Patrick's day in an effort to prevent excessive, "sinful" drinking. It wasn't until 1961 that the law was repealed, permitting the Irish to finally get as wasted as the Americans claiming to be Irish every year!


The point of sharing these facts wasn't to ruin your lucky day. There's no shame in celebrating, but now, you can drink with purpose! Enlighten your friends with the beauty that is Irish culture, and raise your glass to the old Irish blessing:

"Wherever you go, and whatever you do, may the luck of the Irish be there with you."