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Saint Patrick’s Day Traditions

Mar 14, 2013 01:23PM ● By Erin Frisch


The month of March is host to one of the most festive days of the year. Saint Patrick's Day was made an official feast day in the early seventeenth century. For Christians of many denominations, the day commemorates Saint Patrick and the story of how he brought Christianity to Ireland. However, it gradually became a more secular celebration of all things Irish all over the world. Every year on March 17th, celebrations abound from Ireland to the United States, Argentina, Canada, Russia, Switzerland, and even Japan and South Korea. What are some of the most long-standing Saint Patrick’s Day traditions, and how did they come to be? Read on to find out.

Traditional Irish Food and Drink

No Saint Patrick's Day menu would be complete without corned beef and cabbage. This tasty ritual was started in the mid 1800s by Irish Americans. While cabbage has been a traditional Irish dish for centuries, corned beef was not. It came to be used as a less expensive substitute for bacon in the traditional Irish dish of bacon and cabbage. Pair it with your favorite potato recipe and a blood sausage or two for a true Irish feast. Add a loaf of freshly baked Irish soda bread as a delicious accompaniment. While green beer is not an Irish tradition, it has become traditional in the US to toast the day with green ale. Guinness is always a solid Irish choice as well. Raise a pint of one or the other to go with this festive meal.

Parades and Music

New York City, Chicago, Boston, and many other cities host huge Saint Patrick's Day celebrations that include big parades. In Boston, head to Southie for one of the most famous parades. Or if you happen to be going to Chicago the Saturday before the big day, head downtown to see the parade and watch the Chicago River magically turn a delightful emerald green. A tradition that is more than 40 years old, the river is colored by an eco-friendly powdered vegetable dye. Around 5,000 spectators line the sides of Columbus Drive every year to watch the dyeing of the river. Catch a bagpipe performance at your local parade or Irish festival or some traditional Irish folk music and dance. If you like your Irish music a wee bit stronger (think American Celtic punk) and you can get to Boston, grab some tickets for a Dropkick Murphy’s show. They play a couple of all-age shows every year during the weekend of Saint Patrick’s Day.

Step Dancing

Irish step dancing became widespread during the years of British Oppression. The Irish wanted to learn upscale dances like those done in France and England. To accommodate their demands, dance masters invented Irish step dancing by adapting the French and English dances to fit traditional Irish music. By the mid 1700s, the Church had condemned dancing, so this expression of Irish culture was practiced with secrecy. Step dancing was taught in kitchens, barns, living rooms and other fairly private indoor locations. To an outside observer looking through a window of a home, the step does not resemble dancing, as there is no movement in the arms. Hence, the Irish could dance to their heart’s content in their homes without danger. The unique steps and beautiful costumes make Irish step dancing a Saint Patrick's Day favorite. Catch a performance at your local parade or Irish festival.

The Wearing of the Green

Saint Patrick is said to have used the three-leafed shamrock to explain the Holy Trinity to the pagan Irish. He used it to represent how the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit could all exist as separate elements of the same entity. These plants are abundant in Ireland, and the wearing and display of shamrocks and shamrock-inspired designs has become a ubiquitous feature of the day. Paint a bright-green shamrock on your face or wear a shamrock-decorated shirt while you celebrate. Whatever you wear, make sure it’s green to get you into the spirit of this early spring holiday. March is long and can be fickle, so all that green will remind you of spring days waiting in the wings.

What are some of your favorite Saint Patrick’s Day traditions?

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