Let's Celebrate: The History of St. Patrick's Day

Are you wearing green?!

St. Patrick's Day is a fun celebration for schoolchildren and families alike -- but why do we wear green and spend the day covering everything in shamrocks? The traditions behind St. Patrick's Day come from a rich history, one full of fantastic legends and celebrations. It's a great opportunity for a kid-friendly history lesson!

Let's dive in!

Who was Saint Patrick? 

Saint Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland. He lived during the fifth century, and is credited with bringing Christianity to the island nation. He's also credited with some more fantastical legends, like chasing all the snakes out of Ireland! 

As a Roman Catholic holiday, St. Patrick's Day is celebrated as a feast day on the anniversary of his death, but today, you're more likely to find St. Patrick's revelers celebrating things like good luck, pots of gold, and Irish heritage. This is because Irish immigrants to America in the 18th and 19th centuries celebrated Irish culture on St. Patty's Day. In fact, the first-ever St. Patrick's Day parade was held, not in Ireland, but in New York City!


What about the shamrock? 

The shamrock (the three-leaf Irish clover) is associated with St. Patrick himself. According to legend, while working as a missionary, St. Patrick used the three-leaf shamrock to explain the Christian Holy Trinity. While today's celebrations put much less of a religious influence on shamrocks, we still use it as a marker for St. Patrick and for good luck. (P.S. Four-leaf clovers are the luckiest of all!) 

Why do we wear green for St. Patty's Day? 

According to legend, the color green makes you invisible to leprechauns--trickster fairies that like to play pranks on humans. One of these pranks is a vicious pinch when you're least expecting it. According to Irish folklore, the best way to avoid this is to wear green, since the color makes you invisible to pesky leprechauns. 

The historical version is a bit different. The modern St. Patrick's Day celebrations grew out of a sense of Irish pride: green is one of the colors on the Irish flag (the other two are white and orange), and the country is often referred to as "the Emerald Isle" in mythology and cartography because of its beautiful green landscape. Today, we wear green on the big day in honor of this sense of pride--and for good luck! 

Fun fact: The original color associated with St. Patrick was BLUE, not green! Green came about as the Irish built up the celebrations. 

Are there really leprechauns and pots of gold? 

Fairies and tricksters like leprechauns are an integral part of Irish folklore. Stories passed down through generations teach careful lessons about messing with the Fair Folk: don't step in fairy circles, never accept food from a fairy, and make sure to treat all sprites with respect! They may not gift you with a pot of gold, but little nuisances--like spoiled milk, missing left socks, and doors that don't quite shut correctly--are often attributed to annoyed sprites in Irish myth. 

How do I celebrate St. Patrick's Day with my family? 

Whether you celebrate the religious side of the day or simply want to get in on the fun, St. Patty's Day is a fantastic day to celebrate together as a family! Here are a few ways you can celebrate in style: 

  • Look for four-leaf clovers. With spring on its way, it's a great time to get outdoors. Work together as a family to comb through a local shamrock patch and look for four-leaf clovers! If you find one, you can laminate it or preserve it in a frame to bring you good luck all year round. 
  • Go on a quest for gold. Seen any rainbows lately? Take a trek to try and find the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. If it's too far--or more likely, if there's no rainbow on St. Patty's Day--make your own! You can create a DIY rainbow at home with a prism and some sunlight. For extra fun, make your own pot of gold for the kids to find, and have your home rainbow show the way! 
  • Cook an Irish meal. The Irish love to celebrate, and they certainly know how to cook! Look up some favorite Irish recipes, like corned beef and cabbage, Shepherd's pie, and colcannon. Work together as a family to cook a proper St. Patty's feast!
  • Go green. St. Patrick's Day is all about green--wearing it and decorating with it! Try your hand at DIY projects, like these paper potted shamrocks and leprechaun stick puppets
  • Make your own St. Patrick's Day tradition! There's no right or wrong way to celebrate St. Patrick's Day -- that's part of what makes it fun! It's a great time of year to create a new annual tradition, like taking a hike as a family or building a blanket fort in the living room. Make it yours!