It's St. Patrick’s Day — a day in which 34.5 million Americans will lay claim to Irish ancestry, says the U.S. Census Bureau.
A day in which 133 million Americans will celebrate with green beer, food, attire, decor and all things Irish, spending on average $35.27 per person — or $4.7 billion, according to the National Retail Federation.
While many of us will be wearin’ the green today and talking with shameful Irish brogues — the majority will know only a wee bit about the day’s history, traditions and trivia. So, we offer you this St. Patty’s Day primer, lest you make a fool of yourself.
The story of St. Patrick
Yes, he was a real person. But no, he wasn’t born in Ireland, nor did he drive the snakes out of the Irish isle — in fact, historians say there probably never were snakes in Ireland.
However, don’t let those facts rain on your St. Patrick’s parade, because the real story is even more fascinating.
St. Patrick — whose given name was Maewyn Succat, was born around 385 or 387 A.D. in Roman Britain. His father was a deacon, and his grandfather was a priest in the Christian church.
When Patrick was 16, Irish raiders kidnapped him and took him to Ireland to be a slave. He later escaped after God told him in a dream to flee his captors, run to the coast where he would find a ship that would take him back to Britain. Upon his return home, Patrick joined the church and studied to be a priest.
In 432, now a bishop, St. Patrick felt called back to Ireland to help the Irish convert from native polytheism to Christianity. He baptized Irish converts by the thousands — as many as 12,000 at one time, according to historical research.
It is said he used the shamrock to explain the Christian doctrine of the Trinity — the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit — to the Irish people. He was believed to have worn shamrocks on his robes.
St. Patrick died on March 17, 461 A.D. He is buried in Ireland — although the actual location is disputed.
Irish in America
34.5 million U.S. residents claimed Irish ancestry in 2011 — more than seven times the population of Ireland (4.8 million).
Irish is the nation’s second-most frequently reported ancestry, trailing only German.
* Source: U.S. Census Bureau’s 2011 American Community Survey
American places with Irish names:
* Shamrock — 7 cities/towns, including Shamrock Township in Holt County, Nebraska, population: 40
* Dublin — 13 places. Dublin, Calif. is the largest followed by Dublin, Ohio
* Emerald Isle — 1, in North Carolina
* Irishtown — 1 in Illinois
* O’Neill — the Irish capital of Nebraska — is home to the world’s biggest shamrock.
A four-leaf clover is painted in the middle of the road where Route 281 and U.S. 20 meet.
A welcome sign tells people of the community’s Irish roots. John O’Neill, the town’s namesake, was an Irishman who served in the Civil War.
Rather than celebrate its Irish heritage only once a year, O’Neill residents try to wear green on the 17th of every month.
More than 450 churches in the United States are named for St. Patrick.
Nearly 650,000 babies in the United States have been given the name Patrick over the past 100 years, making it the 45th most popular boys name.
* Source: Social Security Administration
Food and drink
The traditional Irish meal of St. Patrick’s Day is Irish bacon and cabbage. Around the turn of the century, Irish Americans substituted corned beef to save money.
In 2011, $2.8 billion in beef and $28.6 million in cabbage were imported to the United States.
* Source: U.S. Census Bureau’s Foreign Trade Division
Guinness — Every day about 600,000 pints of Guinness are consumed in the United States. But on St. Patrick’s Day that number rises to 13 million pints — about 150 pints every second.
* Source: Guinness
* St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland was alcohol-free until the mid-1970s. Irish pubs were closed for the day, and it is said that the only place drink was available was the Irish Kennel Club’s St. Patrick’s Day Championship Dog Show in Dublin.
How Americans like to celebrate
84.2 percent will wear green.
34.6 percent make a special dinner.
23.3 percent decorate their home or office.
27.4 percent will celebrate at a bar or restaurant.
19.5 percent will attend a private party.
* Source: National Retail Federation spending survey
9 million St. Patrick’s Day cards are exchanged annually — making it the eighth-largest card-sending occasion in the United States. (Christmas is the top card holiday with 2.2 billion cards).
* Source: Hallmark
The color: Sky blue, not green was the original color of the Order of St. Patrick, which was established in 1783 as the senior order of chivalry in the Kingdom of Ireland.
Green ribbons and shamrocks became associated with the holiday sometime in the 17th century.
* Source: History.com
Snakes: Ireland has no snakes and probably never did, according to biologists. Surrounded by oceans, the frigid waters are much too cold for snakes ever to have migrated to Ireland.
It is believed the legend of St. Patrick driving the snakes from Ireland is actually a metaphor for driving the old evil, pagan ways out of Ireland.
* Sources: New York City Vacation Packages and History.com
Leprechauns: In reality, these cranky little men have nothing to do with St. Patrick or the celebration of St. Patrick’s Day.
Their arrival is linked to the 1959 Walt Disney film “Darby O’Gill & the Little People,” featuring a cheerful, friendly leprechaun, as opposed to the cantankerous, trick-playing little old men of Irish folklore. Americans enamored with the Disney leprechaun simply associated him not only with St. Patrick’s Day but with Ireland.
Beannacht na feile Padraig ort — Happy St Patrick's Day
Erin go Bragh — Ireland forever
Lobaircin — “Small-bodied fellow,” i.e. leprechaun
Boston and New York City both claim ownership of the very first St. Patrick’s Day parade. Boston is said to have held its parade in 1737. New York held its parade March 17, 1762, when Irish soldiers serving in the English military marched through New York City.
In 1848, several New York Irish Aid societies united their parade to form one official New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade — making it the world’s oldest civilian parade and the largest in the United States. Each year between 150,000 and 250,000 people participate in the parade, and nearly 3 million people line up along the 1.5 mile parade route to watch every year.
Ireland held its first St. Patrick’s parade in 1931 in Dublin.
Each year more than 100,000 people watch as the Chicago River is dyed green on St. Patrick’s Day. The practice began in 1962 when city pollution-control workers used dyes to trace illegal sewage discharges. They came upon the idea of dyeing the river green to celebrate the holiday. That first year, 100 pounds of green vegetable dye was poured into the river — keeping it green for one week. These days, only 40 pounds of dye is used, and the river is green for only a few hours.