St. Patrick's Day
When Irish emigrants moved overseas, they brought over many elements of their culture with them. One of the most significant of these cultural exports is St. Patrick's Day, Ireland's national holiday. In fact, it is celebrated in more countries than any other national holiday. Moreover, St. Patrick's Day became much more popular in emigrant communities than it ever had been back home.
As St. Patrick's feast day in Ireland, it had been an important social and religious day for centuries, but the Irish didn't traditionally throw the giant parades and festivals that we associate with the holiday today. Those festivities originated in the large immigrant communities of New York, Chicago, and Boston. Irish immigrants used St. Patrick's Day to show their pride in their heritage. For the Irish political machines of late-nineteenth-century America, St. Patrick's Day parades were a demonstration of power.
The holiday caught on in the rest of American society and in Irish immigrant communities around the world. Today, a far greater number of people celebrate St. Patrick's Day outside of Ireland than in it. Interestingly, the popularity of the holiday in the United States has helped to make it a bigger holiday in Ireland. In 1995 the government of Ireland established an official St. Patrick's Festival with parades and concerts; prior to that, the celebrations were relatively quiet.
St. Patrick's Day is celebrated on March 17, the date on which Patrick supposedly died in 461 C.E. The first celebration of the holiday in the United States is thought to have taken place in Boston in 1737. Today, the largest St. Patrick's Day parade is in New York City, where more than 150,000 marchers proudly wear the green.
A number of traditions have sprung up around the American celebration of St. Patrick's Day. Among them are: wearing green (or else you get pinched); eating corned beef and cabbage; recklessly displaying shamrocks and leprechauns; drinking green beer; dyeing faces, nails, and rivers green. In Chicago they've turned the Chicago River a lovely shade of Irish green every year since 1961. (The dye they use for this purpose starts out orange but turns green when it mixes with the river water.)