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9 Things You Didn’t Know About St. Patrick’s Day

Throw out all that stuff you thought you knew about St. Paddy’s Day – the snakes, the color green, festive meals of corned beef and cabbage, hell, even the name Patrick. Time for a lesson, Jetsetters.

A Brooklyn-based writer and editor, Chelsea's work has appeared in Matador Network, The Huffington Post, the TripAdvisor blog, and more. When not planning her next trip, you'll usually find her drinking way too much iced coffee (always iced—she’s from New England) or bingeing a Netflix original series.

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St. Patrick was Neither Irish nor Named Patrick

Turns out, this holiday’s namesake was actually born in Britain under the moniker Maewyn Succat. While the real nitty-gritty details of his life are up to some debate, most modern scholars say the Patron Saint of Ireland only found himself in the country after Irish raiders took him from his family’s estate and enslaved him as a shepherd. After six years, he escaped and returned to Great Britain to follow his religious calling, which led to him becoming an ordained minister. It was on his return to Ireland as a missionary that he tried out a new, boldly self-appointed name – Patricius – derived from the Latin term for “father” or “nobleman.” Sounds like a Kanye move, no?

It’s More Likely that St. Patrick Drove Pagans – Not Snakes – Out of Ireland

Snakes were never indigenous to the Emerald Isle, let’s just get that straight. Seems the snakes St. Patrick drove out of the country and into the ocean were more metaphorical in nature – that is to say, St. Patrick ushered Christianity in and the ‘evil serpents’ – Pagans – out. I guess we can see how that might be harder to fit into a first-graders’ lesson plan.

St. Patrick’s Color was Blue, Not Green

Green beads, green beer, green eggs and ham, St. Patrick’s day celebrations are iconically green, a weird happenstance, given that St. Patrick’s color was most definitely blue. Historians point to ancient Irish flags and uniforms belonging to knights in the order of St. Patrick to prove that the saint was fond of the hue. That part of history was brushed over thanks in part to the 1798 Irish Rebellion which chose the clover as the reigning symbol of Irish independence. People ran with it from there, wearing green, incorporating it in new uniform designs, and effectively laying Irish claim to the color.

The *Lucky* Shamrock is Actually a Symbol of Christianity’s Holy Trinity

Ask anyone and they’ll tell you that finding a four-leaf clover in a sea of #basic three-leaved clovers is a sign of good luck. Historically, though, St. Patrick used the three-leaved Irish shamrock as a means to explaining the Christian Holy Trinity: God, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, separate entities, united as one.

St. Paddy’s Day Parades Started in New York, Not Ireland

St. Patrick’s day parades started in the States before there were any states to speak of; we’re talking back in the time of original colonies. The first parade was held by Irish soldiers (serving the English army) in NYC circa 1762 but didn’t become an official city event until almost a century later, in 1848. Weirdly, the first parade in Ireland wasn’t held until 1917 and was in County Wexford (a ways down the coast from Dublin).

The Holiday Hasn’t Always Been this Fun (Read: Boozy)

A religious holiday celebrated in a rather religious country, it should be pretty obvious that original festivities weren’t as hedonistic as they’ve now come to be. Until the 18th century, St. Patrick’s day was observed only in Ireland, and by Roman Catholics. March 17 being the day of the apostle’s death, Irish Catholics celebrated with quiet prayer and church services, and since it fell during Lent, it was a dry holiday. But, as good Irish boy and U2 frontman Bono says, "The whole thing about Lent – as any Irishman will tell you – is that it stops on St Patrick’s Day." Seems the country (and whole world) really took that to heart.

Chicago Dyes the River Green (With the Same Stuff They Use to Detect Sewage)

Chicago has its own St. Paddy’s Day tradition: dyeing the Chicago River green at 9 am on parade day. Before it was a holiday convention, though, the color-changing chemicals were used to detect places in the river where sewage and pollutants were being dumped. For more than 40 years now, the Chicago Journeymen Plumbers have been purposely pouring environmentally safe dye into the water, lending it a celebratory lime hue. Now, after years of tweaking, they’ve figured out that 25 pounds of dye nicely transforms the murky river for one day only.

We Actually Have Lower East Side Immigrants to Thank For Corned Beef and Cabbage

Corned beef and cabbage is an Irish staple…right? Ehhh, kind of but not really. While popular today, the precursor to corned beef and cabbage was actually ham and cabbage (beef being hard to come by in Ireland). Irish immigrants on NYC’s Lower East Side had a hard time finding ham, so they adapted the dish, substituting it with corned beef, a cheaper alternative in the States, and an idea borrowed from their Jewish neighbors.

It’s A Pretty Big Hallmark Holiday

About 12 million Americans exchange cards each year in observance of the Irish holiday. That’s approximately ~7 million more cards being exchanged than people who live in Ireland. Last year, Americans spent a combined $4.6 billion on festivities, but we’re willing to guess more of that was shelled out on Guinness than greeting cards.

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