St. Patrick’s Day, Fact, Fiction and Food


Stuff you thought you knew about St. Patrick’s Day but didn’t:

The real St. Patrick wasn’t even Irish — or a Christian. He was born in Britain to an aristocratic Christian family. During a years-long ordeal as a captive in Ireland, he became a devout Christian. Heeding voices in his head, he escaped slavery, became a priest, and went back to Ireland, where he spent the rest of his life trying to convert the locals to Christianity. We celebrate Patrick on March 17, the date on which he died in 461.

Four leaf clovers may be lucky, but 3-leaf ones are holy. The story goes that Patrick used the three leaves of a shamrock to explain the Christian holy trinity: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

An Irish tradition, made in America. St. Patrick’s Day was first celebrated in America in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1737. St. Patrick’s Day wasn’t celebrated as a big parade-type holiday in Ireland until the 1970s.

Where’s the (Corned) Beef? Bacon was originally the meat o’ choice for the holiday dinner. Irish immigrants in New York City switched to the more economical option of corned beef, an idea they picked up from their Jewish neighbors.

St. Patrick’s Day, By The Numbers:

More Irish than Ireland? Around 34 million modern Americans claim Irish ancestry. (That’s about 7x more people than actually live in Ireland today).

No blarney: Every day, 5.5 million pints of Guinness, the famous Irish stout beer, are consumed worldwide. On St. Patrick’s Day, however, revelers drink 13 million pints of Guinness, according to company spokesmen. Because it is a dark beer, it does not have to suffer being dyed green for St. Patrick’s Day like many lighter (and cheaper) beers do.

Overall, St. Patrick’s Day revelers drink about 1 percent of the total amount of beer consumed annually — which is about 528 million gallons, or 4.2 billion pints of beer.

A brisket, a tasket. Corned beef and cabbage is a “modern-traditional” St. Patrick’s Day dish (see above). (Not surprisingly, March 17 is officially Corned Beef and Cabbage Day). In 2009, roughly 26.1 billion pounds of beef and 2.3 billion pounds of cabbage were produced in the United States.

Eat, drink, be merry. Nearly half (46%) of American adults say they plan to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, and one in five say they plan to have a drink to celebrate. (Only 10% plan to go to a St. Pat’s party). New York City has had a St. Patrick’s Day parade for 248 consecutive years, but Massachusetts has the highest concentration of Irish-American residents (24% of the state’s population).

Literal fairy cakes? Irish soda bread, a St. Patrick’s Day tradition, gets its name – and its leavening – from baking soda (rather than yeast). It is customary to cut a cross on the top of the loaf, possibly “to let the fairies out.” Apparently, trapped fairies will curse your bread – or you. (Eek.)

Need more ideas for St. Patrick’s Day feasting? Here’s a link to all of our Irish recipes, from Irish Coffee to Beef and Guinness Pie.

Photo credit: “Irish Jaunting Car and Peasants,” Library of Congress on Flickr.