Friday, March 16, 2012

I'm Not Irish, But Kiss Me Anyway: St. Patrick's Day Trivia


March 17th is St. Patrick's Day, a holiday that celebrates Irish culture and religion.  Observed in countries around the world since the very first parade in Ireland in 1783, it has also become synonymous in the US with "partying" - a day to gather with friends, attend festive parades, eat your corned beef and cabbage, and drink lots and lots of Guinness or green beer.  In fact, this year it falls on a Saturday, which means lots of three-day celebrations for those revelers.

But St. Patrick's Day is more than just an excuse for shenanigans.  Sure, you know that this day is associated with shamrocks and leprechauns, but do you know why we remember Saint Patrick, or how they observe this day in different parts of the US?  I've scoured the internet to find some facts about this holiday that you may not know.

- Saint Patrick may be the patron saint of Ireland, but he himself was a Roman Briton.  March 17th was chosen to honor him because it is widely accepted by most historians as the date of his death. 

- In legend, Saint Patrick is known for chasing snakes out of Ireland.  In reality, Ireland most likely never had snakes (according to fossil records) and the story is most likely an allegory for St. Patrick's goal of introducing Christianity to the Irish and driving out the "serpents" or sin of the Pagans.  He has been canonized by Christian churches for his work as a missionary, but has never been formally canonized by the Pope. 

- Another legend proclaims that Saint Patrick used a shamrock to teach people about the Holy Trinity, and this is why shamrocks are now associated with this holiday.  They're also considered a symbol of Ireland itself.

- Only Ireland, the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador, and the tiny island nation of Monserrat celebrate St. Patrick's Day as an official holiday.   Newfoundland and Labrador has a high percentage of people with Irish heritage, and Montserrat was founded by Irish refugees.  While many US citizens claim Irish heritage (about 12% or 36 million, per the US Census Bureau in 2008), it is not a federally-recognized holiday here. 

- New York City's St. Patrick's Day Parade is not only the oldest St. Patrick's Day parade in US history (since 1762), it's also the oldest civilian parade in world history as well as the largest.  In a typical year, it boasts about 150,000 participants and 2 million spectators.

- Chicago may have been the first city to dye its river green for St. Patrick's Day, but several other cities also add dye to its waterways - Indianapolis and Jamestown, NY also color their canal and river, respectively;  Savannah and Columbia, SC add green to their fountains.

- Eating corned beef and cabbage on St. Patrick's Day is actually a tradition that was started by Irish-Americans, not the Irish.  During the historical famines in Ireland, cattle was owned and raised by the British for their own ends, so beef products like corned beef were rarities.  When the Irish came to the US in the 19th century, corned beef was cheap and plentiful here, so it became very popular amongst the immigrants.  Cabbage, though, is associated with Irish cooking.

- According to a 2009 statement from Beth Davies Ryan, global corporate relations director of Guinness, about 5.5 million pints of Guinness are consumed daily, but on St. Patrick's Day that number more than doubles to 13 million!  If you're in Hoboken, NJ, watch how much of that Guinness you down - as part of the city's zero tolerance policy, you can be fined $2,000 minimum if the cops catch you in any alcohol-related offenses!

So if you're out celebrating in your finest green duds, raise your green beer and say "Slainte!" which is a toast "to health" in Ireland.  And may the luck of the Irish be with you this St. Patrick's Day!

sources: Wikipedia, National Geographic

1 comment:

  1. That Hoboken part makes me laugh. Their St Paddy's day events are some of the drunkest, craziest things ever.