Sidelines Guidelines: A complete rundown of St. Patrick’s Day traditions

Photo courtesy of Flickr

Story by Katrina Johnson / Contributing Writer

St. Patrick’s Day is here, but before you’re officially St. Patty’s Day-ready, there are some important facts you should be made aware of. After all, you can’t properly celebrate a holiday without actually knowing the meaning behind it.

There is much more to this day than making sure you are cloaked in all green in an attempt to escape the unavoidable: being pinched. But after reading the seven facts below, you will be much more knowledgeable about who Saint Patrick actually is, where the green river is located and if alcohol has always been associated with this Irish holiday.

St. Patrick’s Day

You may not know this, but St. Patrick’s Day is actually a religious observance or celebration to commemorate the arrival of Christianity in Ireland. In the 17th century St. Patrick’s Day began as a religious feast day but has since evolved into a plethora of festivals, parties and parades scattered across the world. These celebrations consist of special foods — corned beef and cabbage, Shepherd’s Pie, green-colored beer — music, dancing, a whole lot of green and way too many shamrock decorations.

Saint Patrick

Contrary to popular belief, Saint Patrick was not Irish. According to History Saint Patrick was born in Roman Britain and was kidnapped by Irish raiders. So why do we associate him with the Irish holiday? He was a Christian missionary who spread the word and knowledge of the Christian religion. After he escaped he returned to Europe and introduced his people to Christianity.

Green Chicago River

Did you know that each year the entire Chicago River turns green? It’s a tradition put in place in memorial of Saint Patrick that dates back to the 1960s. The pigment comes from heaps of vegetable-based dye: The tradition first called for 100 pounds of dye, which kept the river green for about a week, but now only 40 pounds are used to transform the river for approximately two hours. It’s a cool, quirky ritual that seems to never fade in popularity.


The three-leafed clover, also known as the shamrock, was used as a learning tool for the Irish. Saint Patrick used this leaf to explain the holy trinity to those in Ireland, according to National Geographic. The three petals on this clover represent the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Over time, the four-leafed clover has also made its way into typical St. Patty’s Day festivities, because what better way to celebrate than with a token of good luck? 

St. Patty’s Day Parade

Many New York “Irish Aid” societies hosted parades but ultimately decided to merge them as one big parade, according to History. This is the oldest and largest St. Patty’s Day parade in the U.S., and it includes a whopping 150,000 participants and more than 2 million viewers. Following New York, other Northern states, such as Chicago, plan big parades and celebrations as well.


When St. Patrick’s Day became a national holiday in the 1970s, restaurants and bars decided to stay open and celebrate the green holiday, too. Before then, this was a dry holiday, meaning there was no drinking because bars and pubs were closed; this was strictly a time devoted to observe the religious day and remember the arrival of Christianity in Ireland. Once it became a national holiday, where other places weren’t accustomed to bars closing, the drinking came in to picture. Now, as for the green beer, that’s purely a U.S. tradition. 

March 17

While some believe the month of March hosts St. Patrick’s Day just because there are no other holidays in its 31 days, that’s actually not the case. March 17 is the ostensible day when Romano-British Christian missionary Saint Patrick died. People decided he deserved a holiday because he introduced Christianity to Ireland in the fifth century, so now in remembrance of him we observe and celebrate March 17.

Now, go on and enjoy your St. Patty’s Day festivities, but keep in mind what the holiday is all about. You could even start a new tradition and host a St. Patrick’s Day trivia game, where you quiz your family and friends on the seven facts above. Good luck and happy St. Patty’s Day. 

To contact Lifestyles Editor Tayhlor Stephenson, email

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