While St. Patrick’s Day is now associated with wearing green, parades and beer, the holiday is grounded in history that dates back more than 1,500 years. The earliest known celebrations were held in the 17th century on March 17, marking the anniversary of the death of St. Patrick in the 5th century.

St. Patrick was born in Britain

Historians believe that St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, was born in Britain (not Ireland) near the end of the 4th century. At age 16 he was kidnapped by Irish raiders and sold as a slave. After toiling for six years as a shepherd, he escaped back to Britain. He eventually returned to Ireland as a Christian missionary.

Color associated with St. Patrick was blue, not green

Knights in the Order of St. Patrick wore a color known as St. Patrick’s blue. The association with green most likely dates back to the 18th century, when supporters of Irish independence used the color to represent their cause.

Irish laws mandated that pubs be closed on March 17

In modern-day Ireland, St. Patrick’s Day has traditionally been a religious occasion. Catholics would attend church in the morning and partaking of modest feasts in the afternoon. Up until the 1970s, Irish laws mandated that pubs be closed on March 17 to observe the solemn day.

Leprechauns are based on Celtic Fairies

The original Irish name for the red-haired, green-clothed figures of folklore is “lobaircin,” meaning “small-bodied fellow.” Belief in leprechauns likely stems from Celtic belief in fairies— tiny men and women who could use their magical powers to serve good or evil. In Celtic folktales, leprechauns were cranky souls, responsible for mending the shoes of the other fairies.

The Shamrock was considered a sacred plant

The shamrock, a three-leaf clover, has been associated with Ireland for centuries. It was called the “seamroy” by the Celts and was considered a sacred plant that symbolized the arrival of spring. According to legend, St. Patrick used the plant as a visual guide when explaining the Holy Trinity (The Father, Son, and Holy Ghost).

The first St. Patrick’s Day Parade was held in America

While people in Ireland had celebrated St. Patrick since the 1600s, the tradition of a St. Patrick’s Day parade began in America and predates the founding of the United States. Records show that a St. Patrick’s Day parade was held on March 17, 1601, in a Spanish colony in what is now St. Augustine, Florida. The parade, and a St. Patrick’s Day celebration a year earlier, were organized by the Spanish Colony’s Irish vicar Ricardo Artur.

NYC holds the world’s oldest civilian parade & largest in the US

Irish patriotism among American immigrants prompted the rise of “Irish Aid” societies like the Friendly Sons of Saint Patrick and the Hibernian Society. Each group would hold annual parades featuring bagpipes and drums. In 1848, several New York Irish Aid societies decided to unite their parades to form one official New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade. Today, that parade is the world’s oldest civilian parade and the largest in the United States with over 150,000 participants. Each year, nearly 3 million people line the 1.5 mile parade route to watch the procession.

More than 100 St. Patrick’s Day Parades are held across the US

Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Savannah are among the largest parades involving between 10,000 and 20,000 participants each.

Chicago River is dyed green every year

The practice started in 1962, when city pollution-control workers used dyes to trace illegal sewage discharges and realized that the green dye might provide a unique way to celebrate the holiday. That year, they released 100 pounds of green vegetable dye into the river–enough to keep it green for a week. Today only 40 pounds of dye are used (to minimize environmental damage), and the river turns green for only several hours.

Although Chicago historians claim their city’s idea for a river of green was original, some natives of Savannah believe the idea originated in their town. In 1961, a hotel restaurant manager named Tom Woolley convinced city officials to dye Savannah’s River green. The experiment didn’t work as planned, and the water only took on a slight greenish hue. Savannah never attempted to dye its river again, but Woolley maintains that he personally suggested the idea to Chicago’s Mayor Richard J. Daley.

Corned beef and cabbage is an American innovation

The meal that became a St. Patrick’s Day staple across the country—corned beef and cabbage—was an American innovation. While ham and cabbage were eaten in Ireland, corned beef offered a cheaper substitute for impoverished immigrants. Irish Americans living in the slums of lower Manhattan in the late 19th century and early 20th, purchased leftover corned beef from ships returning from the tea trade in China.

* All facts were taken from history.com.
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