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8 Fascinating Facts About St. Patrick's Day

1. St. Patrick wasn’t even Irish. And his real name wasn't Patrick

You’ll be surprised to learn that dear St. Patrick was not Irish, but actually a Brit named Maewyn Succat born in England at the turn of the 4th century. At the age of 16, he was kidnapped by a band of pirates and sold into Irish slavery, where he worked as a shepard. It was at this time that he turned to religion for solace and after six years of slavery, he  was commanded by God in a dream to escape from captivity to the Irish coast. Here, he boarded a ship to Britain, decided to become a priest under the bishop of Auxerre, and took on the name Patricius (which derives from the Latin term for "father figure"). He returned to Ireland after dreaming that the people of Ireland were calling upon him to Christianize them from their native polytheism. After 30 years of evangelism, he died on March 17, 461 and has endured as the principle champion of Irish Christianity.

2. Blue was the original color associated with St. Patrick

There is no actual historical connection between St. Patrick and the color green. In fact, blue, not green, was the color long associated with St. Patrick, as evidenced by the St. Patrick's blue on ancient Irish flags, but that changed during the 1798 Irish Rebellion, when the clover became a symbol of nationalism and the "wearing of the green" on lapels became regular practice. The green shamrock was a symbol that St. Patrick had used to explain the Holy Trinity (its three leaves were meant to represent the Holy Trinity: God, Son, and the Holy Spirit, joined together by a common stalk) to the pagan Irish and to wear a shamrock meant to display your faith. The green soon spread to uniforms as well. That evolution, combined with the idea of Ireland's lush emerald fields, eventually made blue a thing of the past.

3. St. Patrick didn't chase snakes

This will surely come as a great shock to you, but Patrick didn't chase the snakes out of Ireland. According to legend, St. Patrick drove the snakes out of Ireland and into the ocean, where they drowned. But there were no snakes to drive off the island—there is no record of serpents living anywhere on Emerald Island. The reference is metaphorical: St. Patrick drove the "evil" pagan and druid religions from the land through his Christian teachings. 

4. Irish bars closed on St. Patrick's Day

When you think of March 17, you most surely think of the beer you'll be drinking. But, in Ireland, beer wasn’t always a given on St. Patrick’s Day. In 1903, James O’Mara, a member of the Irish parliament, introduced a bill that called to recognize St. Patrick’s Day as a religious holiday. It was made into a law, which meant that all of the pubs had to close on this day and that no beer was readily available. The Irish suffered through this for 67 years until 1970 when the law was repealed and the holiday became a national holiday rather than a religious one, which meant that the Irish could get as drunk as Americans celebrating the Irish.

5. St. Patrick's Day parades started in NYC

In 1762, the first parade honoring St. Patrick took place when Irish soldiers serving in the English army celebrated the holiday by marching through the streets of New York City. By 1848, the parade was an official city event and today it is the largest celebration and parade in the U.S., with almost 3 million people attending the 5-hour 150,000 participant procession each year. The first official celebration in Dublin did not occur until 1931 and the city of Belfast didn't have its first St. Patrick's Day parade until 1998 due to Protestant hostility toward the display of Irish national symbols.

6. U.S. cities dye their waterways green

Chicago has a special St. Patrick's Day tradition—dying the Chicago River green. In 1962, sanitation workers realized that the green vegetable dye they used to check for illegally dumped sewage could double as a St. Patrick's Day decoration. Since then, the city has been dying its waterways with 40 pounds of vegetable dye every St. Patrick’s day. The color only lasts for a few hours. In Jamestown, New York, the Chadakoin River is dyed green each St. Patrick's Day. The city of Indianopolis also dyes its main canal and Savannah dyes its downtown city fountains green, as does Columbia, SC. 

7. Whiskey and the Devil

The massive drinking customary to St. Patrick's Day stems from an old Irish legend: An innkeeper served St. Patrick a measure of whiskey that was considerably less than full. Patrick took it as an opportunity to teach him a lesson in generosity and told the innkeeper that in his basement lived a devil who fed off of his dishonesty. In order to be rid of the devil, the innkeeper must always be honest. When St. Patrick returned to the inn some time later, he found the owner generously filling the patrons' glasses to the point of overflowing. He went to the cellar with the innkeeper and found the devil emaciated from the landlord's generosity, and promptly banished the demon, proclaiming, "Everyone should have a drop of the 'hard stuff' on his feast day."

8. Drown a shamrock for good luck

The phrase, "Drowning The Shamrock" comes from the custom of floating a shamrock on top of your whiskey before drinking it. The Irish believe that if you do this, then you will have a prosperous year. Here's how to do it: Remove the shamrock that you've been wearing on your hat or lapel and put it into your last drink of the evening. Propose a toast and when the toast has been honored, take the shamrock from the bottom of the glass and throw it over your left shoulder. Sláinte!