It’s almost St. Patrick’s Day, the time of year when everyone is at least part Irish (or pretends to be.) But put down the green beer – it’s time to take your St. Patrick’s Day celebrations to the next level. And we’re here to help, with a round-up of St. Patrick’s Day traditions from around the world and some helpful Irish translations for a more authentic St. Patrick’s Day experience.
St Patrick’s Day Traditions Around the World
St. Patrick’s Day originated in Ireland as the feast day of St. Patrick. But it really came into its own amongst Irish immigrant communities in the United States. And since Ireland has historically been a nation of emigrants, St. Patrick’s Day is now celebrated around the world.
Surprisingly, the first St. Patrick’s Day parade didn’t even take place in Ireland. It was held in New York City in 1762. Ireland didn’t get in on the action until 1903!
However, these days there are St. Patrick’s Day parades and celebrations all around the world. Here are some of the largest and best known:
- Dublin, Ireland: They may have been late to the party, but now they’re hosting it: a four-day St. Patrick’s Day extravaganza complete with an enormous parade.
- New York, New York: New York City’s St. Patrick’s Day parade is the largest in the world.
- Chicago, United States: A traditional stronghold of Irish immigrants in the United States, Chicago takes St. Patrick’s Day seriously. The Chicago River is dyed green for the annual parade.
- Buenos Aires, Argentina: Between 1830-1930, thousands of Irish people emigrated to Argentina. Today, their descendants celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with a parade and a street festival.
- Sydney, Australia: Attracting over 80,000 people a year, this event is actually sponsored by the Irish government.
- Montserrat: In an ironic twist, the slaves of Montserrat in the Caribbean chose St. Patrick’s Day 1768 to revolt against their Irish masters. Today, the country celebrates St. Patrick’s Day and its Independence Day at the same time.
- Singapore: St. Patrick’s Day is a surprisingly big deal in Singapore. They even dye the Singapore River green!
According to Wikipedia, the prize for the world’s shortest St. Patrick’s Day parade goes to Dripsey, County Cork, where participants “parade” in between the town’s two pubs.
Put Down the Green Beer and Order a Guinness
Like many St. Patrick’s Day traditions, “green beer” is an American invention. It’s a tradition in its own right and one that’s been around longer than you might expect. Green beer was the brainchild of Dr Thomas Curtin, who came up with the recipe for a St. Patrick’s Day party for the Schnerer Club of Morrisania in the Bronx in 1914.
One of his secret ingredients? Wash powder, a bluing powder used to launder clothes. Seems legit!
These days, they use food colouring, thankfully. But all the food colouring in the world won’t make cheap lousy beer taste any better.
Meanwhile, Guinness is the most popular beer in Ireland. It’s king for a day in America, too, with about 3 million pints served (according to USA Today.)
Drowning the Shamrock
A shamrock has long been one of the traditional symbols of St. Patrick, and of Ireland itself. Legend has it that St. Patrick used the plant to explain the concept of the Trinity to the pagan Irish he converted. There’s not a great deal of evidence to support that claim, and it doesn’t begin appearing in written histories until 1681.
However, the shamrock has been associated with Ireland and the Irish since the 1500s. And the custom of “drowning the shamrock” in a nightcap of Irish whiskey (or other libation) was recorded as early as 1607. Make sure you either swallow the shamrock or toss it over your left shoulder, for luck.
Green has been the colour of Ireland since the 1640s, and the custom of wearing green for St. Patrick’s Day has been around since the 1680s. As Irish nationalism and the desire for independence grew so did the association between the country and the colour.
Which brings us to our next St. Patrick’s Day tradition. . .
What’s up with the pinching? In some parts of the world, forget to wear green for St. Patrick’s Day, and it’s on. You’ll spend the rest of the day getting pinched by friends, family, and possibly random strangers as well. (Note: It’s a bad idea to pinch random strangers! “It was St. Patrick’s Day!” is not a defence against an assault charge.)
Apparently, the idea behind this tradition is that leprechauns pinch humans who don’t wear green for St. Patrick’s Day. The pinches from other humans are designed to keep you on your toes so the leprechauns don’t get you. Sure, blame it on the little guys . . .
Ouch! Maybe he should have been wearing green . . .
So let’s talk about leprechauns, shall we? These little tricksters pop up quite frequently in Irish mythology. For example, myths recorded in the 8th century feature mischievous water spirits called luchorpán, meaning “small body.” These may have been the ancestors of today’s leprechauns, although a competing theory holds that the word “leprechaun” comes from “leath bhrogan,” which is Irish for shoemaker.
Regardless, leprechauns originally wore red, not green. It took centuries for them to take on the “green” colour of their homeland, maintaining their tricksy nature and their love of strong drink and treasure.
As for why they like pinching unsuspecting humans on St. Patrick’s Day, that remains a mystery. I’d imagine the drink has something to do with it.
Fun fact: Leprechauns, and their habitat, are protected under the European Habits Directive along the Sliabh Foy Loop trail. No, really. They are.
Irish Language Week
We’re right in the middle of Irish Language Week (or Seachtain na Gaeilge, if you’re Irish), which runs from 1 March through St. Patrick’s Day on 17 March. Which means it’s really two weeks, but hey, who’s counting?
Irish Language Week was first celebrated in 1902. In previous years, events have included speed dating in Irish, currach racing, music, classes, a circus presented as Gaeilge, and more.
Click here for a list of this year’s events.
Irish Translations for St. Patrick’s Day
Want to impress people while you’re out and about on St. Patrick’s Day? Stand out from the drunken horde with these Irish translations:
Useful Irish Translations:
Hello: Dia Duit
Hello (as a reply): Dia is Muire Duit
Happy Saint Patrick’s Day: Lá fhéile Pádraig sona duit
Do you speak Irish? An bhfuil Gaeilge agat? (to one person) or An bhfuil Gaeilge agaibh? (to a group)
Where is the toilet? Cá bhfuil an leithreas?
Health! (used as a toast): Sláinte!
Irish Pickup Lines
Kiss me, I’m Irish! Tabhair póg dom, táim Éireannach
Speak to me in Irish: Labhair Gaeilge liom
Do you come here often? An dtagann tú anseo go minic?
And because it’s St. Patrick’s Day, here’s how to order a beer in Irish:
Two pints please: Dhá phionta le do thoil
A pint of Guinness, please: Pionta Guinness, le do thoil.
I’d like a glass of beer: Ba mhaith liom gloinne beoir
I’ll get the next round: Beidh seo ormsa
How are you celebrating St. Patrick’s Day? Let us know in the comments!