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St. Patrick’s Day: Myth vs Fact

That’s right, folks! St. Patrick’s Day is here again! It’s time to break out the whiskey and wear something green so strangers will avoid pinching you in the streets.

But why do we celebrate this sacred day? What are we actually celebrating? You’ve most likely heard the story of St. Patrick, who drove all the snakes out of Ireland. But is that the actual story? What is myth and what is fact when it comes to the tale of St. Patrick’s Day?

Well, stop asking questions because we here at CitySignal are coming at you with answers!

Myth: St. Patrick’s Day celebrates when St. Patrick drove all the snakes out of Ireland.

Fact: The snake thing is just one of many origin stories for the Irish holiday. Other possible origins are that the day commemorates the saint’s death, or the day he brought Christianity to Ireland. These last two scenarios are far more likely considering there have never been records of snakes in Ireland. For this reason, it’s believed that snakes are an allegory for pagans, which is pretty mean considering pagan mythology is actually pretty cool. Paganism and Celtic mythology has even been incorporated back into the holiday via clovers and leprechauns, so it’s not exactly an origin story that sticks.

Myth: St. Patrick brought Christianity to Ireland.

Fact: While he definitely popularized it, Christianty had been present on the island for sometime before the Saint ever arrived there. In fact, some scholars believe that Saint Patrick has been receiving credit for something that Palladius, a Roman Bishop, and his son did. That said, Patrick was very proactive in spreading the religion to all parts of Ireland. However, popularizing and inventing are two very different things.

A statue of St. Patrick above the entrance to St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church in Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter in County Antrim (Aug., 2020). Photo by K. Mitch Hodge on Unsplash

Myth: Saint Patrick was Irish.

Fact: Remember when I said that Christianity was in Ireland before Patrick was? That’s because Patrick was born on the British Isles, probably when it was ruled by Rome. “So how did Saint Patrick end up in Ireland?” I’m glad you asked! The guy got kidnapped by Irish pirates when he was 16 and they brought him over! Little did they know, they had kidnapped a guy who’s name would be synonymous with drinking, snake removal, and the color green. Speaking of:

Myth: Green has always been the color for St. Patrick’s Day.

Fact: The original St. Patrick’s Day color was blue because that’s what the saint’s followers would wear. It was most likely changed to green in the 1700s when Ireland was vying for independence from England. Green was the color the indie Irish went with and it just stuck. Now Chicago dyes its river green every St. Patrick’s Day because there’s nothing the Irish and Catholic communities love more than bizarre mischaracterizations of their holidays.

 Myth: Most Saint Patrick’s Day Traditions Come from Ireland.

Fact: I know this might shock some people, but it turns out America co-opted a holiday and forced its own traditions onto it without acknowledging the religious or cultural significance of said holiday. Before the good US of A came along, Saint Patrick’s Day was a feasting day for Roman Catholics that was only celebrated in Ireland. When more Irish people started immigrating to America, they brought the holiday with them and began having large festivals and parades to showcase their Irish pride. The shamrocks, wearing green, and the stuff with leprechauns are all traditionally Irish, but they’ve been heavily appropriated by Americans who thought they just looked fun. It’s like when people wear sombreros on Cinco de Mayo. It’s culturally insensitive, but morning talk shows still do it anyway.

Myth: Leprechauns are chill dudes who live under rainbows and give people gold and good luck.

Fact: Leprechauns are fairies, and Irish fairies have a tendency to be mischievous if not downright dangerous. First, and foremost, leprechauns do not live under rainbows and guard pots of gold. They mostly work with shoes and try to avoid humans. That said, if humans do cross paths with one, they better not wrong the leprechauns, because they will ruin your life. They could just prank you silly, or they might steal all your money! Who knows with these little guys?

Myth: Corned Beef and Cabbage is a longstanding tradition.

Fact: This one is actually true…for America. In Ireland, it’s more traditional to eat pork. The American tradition comes from a cool fusion of Irish and Jewish cultures when Irish immigrants started buying meat from Jewish delis. This became a traditional food for Irish communities in the states, which is easily one of the nicest additions the US made to the holiday.

Myth: You have to pinch people who don’t wear green on St. Patrick’s Day.

Fact: No you don’t. You don’t have to pinch anyone ever! The common myth is that the color green makes you invisible to leprechauns, so if you aren’t wearing green, those little devils get you good. But like we said earlier, green wasn’t really a St. Patrick’s Day thing until the 1700s. Maybe blue was supposed to make you invisible? Or maybe this is just a myth that started later in Irish history. Either way, it’s always been the thing I actively dislike about St. Patti’s. Everything else is cool.

Saint Patrick’s Day began its life as a religious festival and has evolved into many forms that are celebrated in countries all over the world. The biggest celebrations still happen in the US and Ireland, but those traditions look very different. We Americans tend to add our own spins to holidays, for better or worse, to make them our own. That said, it’s important to remember that this is a day of pride for Irish communities. So, while fun is absolutely encouraged, so is respect. The mythos of Ireland is not well understood or practiced in many of today’s Saint Patrick’s traditions. However, the themes of celebration and Irish pride are forever present. So do yourselves a favor and learn a bit more about Irish culture! It’s interesting, sad, and inspirational all at the same time. So pour yourself some whiskey and learn something!

Russell is a writer and comic based in New York City. His plays have been featured at Penn State’s Cultural Conversation’s Festival, The NYC Thespis Festival, and Imaginarium’s Inaugural Theater Festival. Follow him on TikTok and Instagram @pooleparty528