It may be an Irish holiday, but St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated all around the world, with the traditional parades, beer, shamrock-shaped treats and green-clad revelers. But today’s festivities are dramatically different from the true origins of the Irish holiday, which is named after a man who wasn’t even Irish. You might be surprised by these 10 fun facts about St. Patrick and the March 17 observance.
1. The real St. Patrick wasn’t named Patrick. His birth name was Maewyn Succat, but Ireland’s patron saint changed his name to Patricius after becoming a priest.
2. St. Patrick wasn’t Irish. He may be known as the Apostle of Ireland, but St. Patrick was actually born in Britain around A.D. 385 and his parents were Roman citizens. It wasn’t until about 16 years later that he went to Ireland, but not by choice.
3. St. Patrick was a slave. At age 16, St. Patrick was kidnapped and sold into slavery in Ireland, where he tended sheep for 10 years. He fled to England at age 22 and took refuge in a monastery in Gaul for 12 years, where he studied for the priesthood and was ordained a bishop. St. Patrick later took his teachings back to Ireland, where, for 30 years, he strove to convert the country to Christianity.
4. St. Patrick’s color is not green. We should really drink blue beer rather than green on March 17, because blue was the color originally associated with St. Patrick. Artwork often depicts Ireland’s patron saint wearing blue garments. Blue was used to represent Ireland on flags, coats of arms and sports jerseys. That all changed in the 17th century. Green is one of the colors in Ireland’s tricolor flag and Ireland was dubbed the Emerald Isle for its lush green landscape.
5. The first St. Patrick’s Day parade took place in New York City in 1762. Irish soldiers serving in the English military marched through the city. Parades celebrating the Irish holiday weren’t common until the mid-19th century. Today, more than 100 St. Patrick’s Day parades take place in cities across the United States. New York City and Boston host some of the largest celebrations.
6. Beer was banned on St. Patrick’s Day. You read that correctly. St. Patrick’s Day was traditionally a dry observance. Irish law between 1903 and 1970 made St. Patrick’s Day a religious holiday for the entire country, which meant pubs were closed for the day. Today, St. Patrick’s Day is arguably one of the largest drinking holidays, with an estimated $245 million spent on beer for March 17 and more than 13 million pints of Guinness consumed.
7. There are 34.7 million Irish-Americans living in the United States. That’s more than seven times the population of Ireland. There are more than 80 million people worldwide who claim ancestral connection to the “ould sod.”
8. March 17 is the day of St. Patrick’s death. The Catholic Church designates the day a saint dies as a holy day, because it’s believed he or she then enters heaven. Although St. Patrick was never formally canonized as a saint, he is on the list of saints, was declared a Saint in Heaven by many Catholic churches and was also venerated in the Orthodox Catholic Church, according to Bio. Thus, March 17 was hailed as St. Patrick’s Day.
9. The shamrock was a symbol of the Holy Trinity. St. Patrick used the three-leafed shamrock to illustrate his teachings about how the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit could be separate entities yet one and the same. Today, the shamrock is often viewed as a symbol of good luck.
10. Good luck finding a four-leaf clover. You’ll need it, because the odds of finding a four-leafer on your first try are 1 in 10,000.