If you think St. Patrick’s Day is just about lucky charms and “Kiss Me, I’m Irish” T-shirts, think again.
It all started on March 17th, 1631: Centuries after Saint Patrick’s death, the Catholic Church established a feast day in honor of the patron saint of Ireland, the man credited with bringing Christianity to the island nation.
“We know that he was a Roman citizen, because Britain was Roman then, and then he was enslaved and taken to Ireland, where he either escaped or was released,” Marion Casey, a clinical assistant professor of Irish Studies at New York University, told Time magazine. “And then he became a priest and went back to Ireland, where he had a lot of luck converting the Druid culture into Christians.”
One of the most recognizable symbols of the holiday, the shamrock, reportedly became a symbol of the day because St. Patrick used the three-leaf plant to explain the Holy Trinity — the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Later on, when Irish emigrants settled in the U.S., the festivities became more secular, which is how most of the traditions we’re familiar with came to be. Boston was the first to host a parade back in 1737, and New York followed with its own in 1762.
Then something drastically changed in 1798 during the year of the Irish Rebellion.
Though you may go into your closet nowadays for your greenest look, it appears blue was actually the color associated with the saint back then. During the rebellion, though, the British wore red, and the Irish wore green to oppose them. That’s how green became associated with St. Paddy’s Day — if they hadn’t been feeling quite so feisty, we might just be drinking blue beer today.
When it comes to food though, that’s one tradition the Irish have kept alive. Since it was cheap and easy to get, corned beef and cabbage were always a staple for the holiday.
As far as drink preferences go, whiskey and beer are consumed heavily. This is reportedly because the celebration falls right in the middle of Lent, but prohibitions on the consumption of meat and alcohol were lifted for the day, giving Irish Christians a break from their religious duties and a chance to indulge.
Today, the Irish recognize St. Paddy’s Day with green garb, shamrocks, fireworks, and other celebrations, but mostly for the benefit of the tourist industry (until the 1970s, it was actually still more of a religious holiday there). And stateside, we relish in our green ensembles, shamrock shakes, and city festivals (Chicago dyes its river green every year!).
Whether you down a Guinness and kiss an Irish stranger or settle in for a viewing of Brooklyn, enjoy the holiday. These days, it’s more about good food and drink than anything else.