Wearing green and lazy stereotyping: Everything you need to know about St Patrick’s Day

  • Lá Fhéile Pádraig sona diaobh!
  • Where the traditions and myths of St Patrick's Day have come from
  • Ireland's national day is this Sunday, March 17th

This Sunday is St Patrick’s Day (Lá Fhéile Pádraig), the national day of the patron saint of Ireland.

The festival is celebrated not just in Ireland, but around the world in countries with a large Irish diaspora.

Buildings are famously lit up in green and green dye is put into rivers around the world, but why is this?

St Patrick
Shamrocks and the colour green are heavily associated with St Patrick. Photo credit: Nheyob on Wikimedia Commons

The answer lies with the eponymous saint. Legend goes that St Patrick tought Irish pagans about the holy trinity by using a three-leaf clover to demonstrate. Clovers, or shamrocks, are all green and therefore this is the colour associated with Patrick and Ireland as well.

Christians traditionally attend church services on the day and there is also a St Patrick’s Day feast at which the Lent restrictions on eating and drinking alcohol were lifted. It is supposed this is why drinking alcohol is seen as a part of St Patrick’s Day.

St Patrick’s Day is traditionally celebrated with parades and Irish cèilidhean (folk music sessions) as playing on a day of rest.

Due to the large amount of Irish diaspora, especially in the USA, St Patrick’s Day is often celebrated more widely abroad than in its home nation. The Chicago River is dyed green and the Sydney Opera House was the first international building to be lit up green for the day.

Sydney Opera House on St Patrick's Day
The Sydney Opera House was the first international building to be lit up green for St Patrick’s Day. Photo credit: Kahunapule Michael Johnson on Wikimedia Commons

But with its massive appeal outside of Ireland, there have been criticisms of stereotyping of the Irish for the day.

Firstly, St Patrick’s Day is used as an excuse in other countries (but mainly the UK and USA) to drink a lot of alcohol. As previously mentioned, the drinking of alcohol is traditionally linked to the lifting of alcohol abstinence of the Lent period for the day and does not necessitate people to get blackout drunk.

Many people in parades around the world also choose to dress up as leprechauns (by the way it’s pronounced lep-reh-hahn… the c is silent) which is seen as a racist stereotype in the same way that a gollywog is a racist stereotype of black African people.

So if on Sunday you don one of those awful Guinness hats and are intent on going to a bar that offers you a free leprechaun doll if you drink five shots of Jameson’s, perhaps put the hat down, change your plans and head to an Irish bar to listen to (or indeed take part in (by playing or dancing)) a cèilidh while enjoying a meal and a pint while conspiratorially talking about how best to kick the English out of your country then you’ll be doing St Patrick’s Day right!