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St. Patrick’s Day celebrations, traditions changed over the years

Published: Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Updated: Tuesday, September 24, 2013 10:09

Everybody's Irish on March 17, but what exactly does it mean to be "Irish" on St. Patrick's Day?


Millions of people around the world spend the day celebrating Irish ancestry, culture and tradition. Some commemorate the religious man himself and eat classic Irish meals, such as corned beef, potatoes and cabbage, but others merely embrace the gaiety and welcome spring, beer in hand.  


The holiday is definitely not as commercialized as Christmas, but McDonald's sure puts out a mean Shamrock Shake.  Chicago dyes the Chicago River completely green and it's New York City, not Dublin, which hosts the biggest St. Patty's Day parade in the world.


With all the green madness and nonsense about little men with orange hair and bad attitudes running around, not many people know – or care – why exactly the Irish started celebrating this day. In fact, when you find out who St. Patrick really was and what he stood for, that green beer of yours may start to taste a little sour.

St. Patrick was actually born in Britain, but was made a slave of the Irish when Rome withdrew its legions in Britain and the Irish invaded. He stayed there for over 10 years and finally escaped, but actually returned as a priest to convert the pagans and Celtic sun-worshipers of Ireland to Christianity.

Since his death on March 17 in the fifth century, the Irish have been celebrating his influence on Ireland's culture. It was originally a Catholic holiday and official religious feast day, but through the years the celebrations became more secular.


Of course, then there was that dreaded potato famine in the 1840s which drove millions of Irish to North America brining along their customs.


The symbol of the leprechaun became distorted when Americans interpreted it as not a wise Irish spirit warning to stay away from a sacred place, but as a stereotypical, poor Irish immigrant. The leprechaun's funny clothes were inspired by the secondhand clothes the Irish were forced to wear from the Napoleonic Era.

In the middle of the rush of Irish immigrants to America in 1848, a few New York Irish Aid societies decided to unite their annual parades to form one huge New York City St. Patrick's Day parade. It is the world's oldest civilian parade with over 150,000 participants and millions of spectators. That's how the madness began.


Twenty-one years later, Pittsburgh formed its own St. Patrick's Day parade. I have some Irish roots myself, and I remember how happy I was when my parents took me to the parade in Pittsburgh as a little kid. 
    Many people, especially the young and reckless college students who love to party, use St. Patty's Day as an excuse to drink excessively. Whether these students feel they are just celebrating an old Irish tradition, or taking a break from schoolwork, some out-of-control parties they throw tend to cause a lot of trouble for universities.


One particular university in Pennsylvania is infamously known as one of the top party schools in the country. Penn State University Main campus originally created its own party day on a different date than St. Patrick's Day, which occurred during spring break. "State Patty's Day" has since become a campus-wide day to hit the bars. This year it occurred on Saturday, Feb. 26.


Last year's State Patty's Day weekend recorded 365 calls to State College police, 160 arrests and 24 alcohol overdoses, according to an article on


At least two bars in State College planned to close that weekend with the knowledge they would be turning away thousands of dollars at the higher risk of liability issues.


I think some people have taken the partying a little too far.


I bet if St. Patrick were alive today, he would be upset that one of the most popular traditions of Ireland that is celebrated on his day is drinking beer.

Yes, Ireland is third in ranking for the top alcohol consuming countries, according to a 2006 survey from the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development –  but to me, that's not the area where light should be shined.


St. Patrick's Day is a day to spend with your family if you can. It's a day to relax, be overly joyful and as "Irish" as possible.

So, if and when you raise your bubbling glass of green beer, remember that if it weren't for the bravery and Christian missions of some old dead guy named St. Patrick, it would probably just be another normal March 17.

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