St. Patrick's Day Traditions

Overview

The wearin' o' the green, corned beef and cabbage, green beer, shamrocks and leprechauns--they all add up to St. Patrick's Day in most American minds. But are they really Irish traditions?

History

St. Patrick was born in Wales in around A.D. 385. He spent 30 years converting pagans to Christianity in Ireland and died on March 17, A.D. 461.

The Shamrock

In order to explain the Trinity, St. Patrick used the three-leafed shamrock to show how the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit could be three separate parts of one entity. His followers started the tradition of wearing a shamrock on his feast day.

Snakes

One of the legends about St. Patrick is that he drove all of the snakes from Ireland. Since Ireland never had snakes, some believe this is an illustration of his converting the pagans to Christianity.

Wearing Green

Ireland is known as the "Emerald Isle" because the plant life there is always green. But wearing green on St. Patrick's Day is an American-made custom.

Corned Beef and Cabbage With Green Beer

In Ireland, the tradition was to eat Irish bacon and cabbage on St. Patrick's Day. When immigrants came to the U.S. around the turn of the twentieth century, however, money was tight, and they substituted the less expensive corned beef for the bacon. Beer was a traditional beverage, however, the green coloring is an American invention.

Leprechauns

The Irish version of the word "leprechaun," or "lobaircin," means "small-bodied fellow." They are traditionally cranky little men and only minor characters in Irish folklore, with nothing to do with St. Patrick. Thanks to Walt Disney's "Darby O'Gill and the Little People," however, Americans adopted the "friendly" little leprechaun as a symbol of Ireland and St. Patrick's Day.

References

  • St. Patrick's Day
  • Symbols and Traditions

Who Can Help

  • Claddagh Rings History

About this Author

Chris Carson has been writing professionally since 1988. Specializing in topics such as cats, jewelry, history and English, her articles have appeared in "Best Friends Magazine" and eHow. Carson received her Bachelor of Arts in English from Arizona State University.

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