Religions and Spirituality

Ten Surprising Facts About St. Patrick's Day

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Fanwood native Jack Burke visited County Mayo, Ireland in 2014. Mayo is home to Croagh Patrick, a mountaintop where St. Patrick reportedly fasted for 40 days. Credits: Courtesy of Marybeth Griffin Burke
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St. Patrick's Grave in Downpatrick, Co. Down Credits: John Mooney
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Aidan, Reagan and Aislinn Mooney near Downpatrick, Co. Down (Sept. 2012) Credits: John Mooney
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Rainbow in Ireland Credits: John Mooney
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According to a new survey by WalletHub, more than 52% of Americans plan some type of celebration of St. Patrick's Day, and more than 82% of celebrants will wear green. Overall, $4.6 billion will be spent on dining, flags, clothing, and, of course, beer. Guinness estimates that more 13 million pints of its stout will  be consumed. While those facts might not be surprising, the following likely are:

1) March 17 is not St. Patrick's birthday; it's the day he died
He was born in 385 AD on an unknown date. After spending most of his adult life converting the pagans of Ireland to Christianity, St. Patrick died on March 17, 461 AD. (Source: Catholic.org)
 
2) St. Patrick was not born in Ireland
His parents were Roman citizens living in England. At the age of 16, he was kidnapped by Irish raiders who took him away and sold him as a slave. He spent several years in Ireland herding sheep and learning about the people there. At the age of 22, he escaped and made his way to a monastery in England. He returned to Ireland and converted the people to Christianity. (Source: Catholic.org)
3) The church never canonized Patrick as a saint
Patrick died in 461 AD. The Catholic church's canonization process was not formalized until the Middle Ages. By then, he was widely recognized as a saint already. (Source: AmericanCatholic.org)
 
4) Legend says St. Patrick drove all the snakes from Ireland, but it is unlikely 
There is little evidence that snakes ever existed in Ireland. The climate is too cool for them to live there. Scholars suggest that the term "snakes" may have been a metaphor for pagan religious beliefs. (Source: Catholic.org)
 
5) Patrick's color is blue
The original color associated with St. Patrick was blue, not green. Early artworks depicted St. Patrick wearing blue vestments. (Source: Catholic.org)
 
6) Construction of New York's St. Patrick's Cathedral was halted by the Civil War
Although work began in 1858, the construction was disrupted by the Civil War. At the time, the area now known as Midtown was actually far north of most of the population of Manhattan. (Source: Wikipedia)
 

7) New York's St. Patrick's Day Parade pre-dates America's founding
The New York City St. Patrick's Day Parade is the country’s oldest and largest parade. The Irish tradition began 14 years before the Declaration of Independence on March 17, 1762. (Source: http://www.nycstpatricksparade.org)
 
8) More than 34 million Americans claim Irish ancestry
Irish ranks second to German among nationalities of Americans with European ancestry. (The number of Irish Americans includes people of mixed ancestry today. By contrast, 4.2 million people live in Ireland.)
 
The "Irish Diaspora" was a result of the country's troubled economic history, notably the Potato Famine, which wiped out about one-third of Ireland's population in the mid 19th century. Waves of people came thereafter, and during the Civil War entire regiments of troops were comprised exclusively of Irish immigrants. Later, Annie Moore -- followed by millions of others -- was the first immigrant processed through Ellis Island until the facility closed in 1954. Irish immigrants continue to come to the U.S. today, but not in the great numbers of the past. (Source: Catholic.org)
 
9) Corned beef and cabbage is not an Irish dish
It is an Irish-American meal. In the late 1800s, many Irish immigrants were poor and could not afford to eat meat very often. They bought the least expensive cut of meat – brisket – which they would soak in a brine to make tender, and the least expensive vegetable: cabbage. (Source: http://www.sorensonvrs.com/march_2014_st_patrick_day_facts)
 
10) Alcohol was not served on St. Patrick's Day in Ireland until 1970
For many decades, St. Patrick's Day was a religious observance in Ireland during which all pubs were closed. In 1970, St. Patrick's Day was reclassified as a national holiday, thus allowing the taps to flow freely. (Source: Catholic.org)
 

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