St. Patrick — brace yourself — was not actually Irish.
Patrick was a nobleman born in about 400 A.D. in Britain and kidnapped by Irish pirates at the age of 16. Patrick was born into a religious family, but was an atheist early in his life. However, he rediscovered his faith while enslaved in Ireland. After 17 years as a slave, St. Patrick escaped Ireland and found his way home, but returned to Ireland as a missionary. He was ready to die in Ireland in order to make his mission successful. It’s unclear if St. Patrick did in fact die in Ireland, but March 17 is widely believed to be the day of his death.
St. Patrick’s Day began as a religious holiday in Ireland but became a celebratory affair because of Irish Americans. In the United States, St. Patrick’s Day was first celebrated with banquets at elite clubs in Boston, Philadelphia, New York, Charleston, S.C., and Savannah, Ga. New York City hosted the first St. Patrick’s Day parade in 1762, and by the mid-19th century parades were common. After years of racial slurs, Irish Americans say that the parades were a statement of showing their colors, showing their numbers, showing that they were powerful and important. Every city is different – members of the plumbers’ union dye the Chicago River green for St. Patrick’s Day
Legend has it that St. Patrick used the three-leaved shamrock to explain the Christian Holy Trinity. People wore shamrocks on their coats and closed the day by “drowning the shamrock” — placing it in a glass of whiskey before drinking.
Today’s leprechauns, usually rosy-cheeked, boozy little men in green attire, come from Irish folklore. The first recorded mention of a leprechaun goes back to the 8th century, coming from the word luchorpán, meaning “little body” to describe water spirits. Another possible origin is the Irish god Lugh, whose Welch variant is known as one of the “Three Golden Shoemakers.”
There’s also the Irish fairy Cluricaune, “a cunning spirit who haunts cellars, drinks, smokes and plays tricks,” the Matthewses write. Cluricaune was popularized in a 1825 publication called Fairy Legends.
Corned beef and cabbage
Although a classic St. Patrick’s Day meal, corned beef and cabbage is more American than Irish. Irish Americans in the 19th century were mostly poor. The most affordable meat available was corned beef, according to Cronin. And cabbage? It’s a spring vegetable and it’s cheap.
The Irish stout is the drink of choice on St. Patrick’s Day. On a typical day, Americans drink about 600,000 pints of the Dublin-based beer. But on St. Patrick’s Day, about 3 million pints of Guinness are downed, according to Guinness in an email to USA TODAY Network.
Planning on drinking a pint on Monday? Tip from Guinness on the perfect pour: Tilt the glass at 45 degrees when pouring until it is three-quarters full, then let the beer settle before filling the glass completely to the top.