Ok, I'll admit it. I'm not Irish. Not a drop of Irish blood that I know of. I've never been to Ireland, never dated an Irishman, and I'm not a regular at any Irish pubs (although, I do love a good pint now and then). The closest I've come to being Irish is wearing green on St. Patrick's Day, mainly because my teenage students are always on the prowl each year to see who needs a pinch. Since I'm not much for green, either, I've always avoided the pain by wearing a shamrock button that one of them gave me years ago in pity. Sad, but true.
I do, however, have a very close friend who is Irish. 100%, in fact, and immigrated to the United States as a child. She doesn't speak in a charming Irish brogue, but she does have a distinctly Irish sounding name, and definitely can throw back the ale like nobody's business.
Being the curious sort, I cornered her one day to get the 'real' story of St. Patrick's Day - I figured who better to share the real traditions behind the festivities, right? To my dismay, she left me flat. The parades, the traditions, the food, and everything else Americans associate with the 'luck 'o the Irish' is not a part of her lifestyle. Left on my own to research the real back story of St. Patrick's Day, I was surprised with what I learned.
"Do the Irish celebrate St. Patrick's Day?"
Not the same way we do. St. Patrick's Day was really created by Irish American immigrants, and actually has very loose ties with the real Saint Patrick - and yes, there was one. And shockingly, he wasn't Irish! He was a Brit!
"Why does everyone wear shamrocks?"
Originally, the shamrock, an ancient plant, symbolized spring. Over the years, however, as English and Irish tensions grew, the Irish began wearing shamrocks to show their national pride and identity .
"Why is corned beef a popular food on St. Patrick's Day?"
It all started with Irish immigrants living in New York near Jewish immigrants. The Jewish people introduced corned beef as a cheaper substitute for Irish bacon, and the immigrants began adding it to their diets.
"What's the story of the leprechauns?"
Leprechauns are a completely American invention - created by none other than Walt Disney himself. After the 1959 film 'Darby O'Gill and the Little People", leprechauns became an easy to recognize symbol of Ireland. They actually have nothing to do with Saint Patrick!
"Why is St. Patrick's Day such a popular American celebration?"
Amazingly, there are over 36.9 million Americans with Irish roots -which is far more than the population of Ireland itself! America is the 'melting pot', and Irish Americans celebrate as an homage to their ancestral roots.
Whether or not you are of Irish descent, have Irish friends, or just want to know the reason why so many people go crazy looking for leprechauns in March, now you know the real back story of St. Patrick's Day. At least it'll give you something to talk about when you're chugging down your pint of Guinness.