Whether it’s the corned beef and cabbage, the green Chicago River, or the notorious New York City parade, St. Patrick’s Day has become a massive holiday in the United States. On St. Patrick’s Day, Americans celebrate Irish traditions, including wearing green, decorating with leprechauns and shamrocks, and listening to bagpipes in the parades. Today, there are 34.7 million Americans with Irish ancestry in the United States, which is a lot considering that the population of Ireland is around one-seventh of that. St. Patrick’s Day has drifted away from being a religious holiday celebrating the Patron Saint of Ireland to become a celebration of Irish culture and contribution to America and the world.
The funny thing about St. Patrick is the fact that Saint Patrick himself wasn’t actually Irish. He was a 4th century Saint, originally from Scotland, who was kidnapped and forced to work in Ireland. After he was freed, he successfully converted many people on the Emerald Isle to Christianity. Believe it or not, his official color is not even green, rather a light blue representing the Catholic Church. This is strange, considering that he was later named a Saint of Ireland. In 1762, there were religious debates as Americans held their very first St. Patrick’s Day march in New York City. The Irish soldiers fighting for the English marched through the city because they were unwelcome in America. Since the Americans and the English weren’t very friendly with one another, the Irish were not treated any different.
Today, the New York City parade is very different. Now you will find approximately 300,000 people from all over the country and from all around Ireland marching proudly in front of about three million spectators. This holiday has become about unity and friendship between our two countries and a celebration of Irish culture. Everyone has learned to celebrate and enjoy this 257-year-old tradition, which should not be categorized as just an Irish celebration. Along with hundreds of thousands of Irish people marching in the parade every year, more than 18,000 New York firefighters, police, and other New York City employees march as well, celebrating the contributions of the Irish to their organizations. This is another example of the influence of the Irish in America and the bond between the US and Ireland.
In Dublin, the 36th annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade will happen this year, which has existed for a much shorter time than our very own New York City parade. That’s pretty bizarre considering that it is all about Irish heritage. The reason for that is because, before this time, the people wouldn’t have been able to express the religious significance that is involved with the holiday. The other reason that they started having a parade, was so that tourists—mostly Americans—can spend St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland. The celebration of the holiday really originated here in the United States.
Even though we are celebrating Irish traditions and heritage, the United States made St. Patrick’s Day into the holiday it is today. It has transformed from a religious holiday into one commemorating the Irish culture and friendship between the United States and Ireland. Millions of Americans will enjoy St. Patrick’s Day with corned beef, cabbage, and a Guinness. Not only will the Irish celebrate it, but all Americans because in the end, everyone’s Irish on St. Patrick’s Day.
Graphic: Nicole Kye