7 St. Patrick's Day Traditions That Actually Started in the U.S.

These seemingly Irish traditions didn't actually originate on the Emerald Isle.

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It's well known that St. Patrick's Day is a celebration of Irish culture. After all, the holiday is the feast of Saint Patrick—the patron saint of Ireland who died on Mar. 17, 461. That being the case, it wouldn't be outrageous to assume that the various elements associated with the annual celebration originated, at least for the most part, on the Emerald Isle. However, it turns out that many of the familiar customs and traditions we observe each year on Mar. 17 actually began in the United States. The first St. Patrick's Day parade, for example, took place in the U.S., not Ireland. From there, St. Patrick's Day traditions continued to develop stateside, creating the construct for what evolved over the years into the holiday that we know today.

1
Drinking green beer

a group of men toasting green beer on st. patrick's day
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If you go to Ireland on St. Patrick's Day, you're bound to see many people downing a few pints of Guinness—but that's common on any day. What you won't see much—if any—of, however, is people drinking beer that's been dyed green. That's because the practice is strictly an U.S. tradition.

"Given that the most [common] beer in Ireland is jet black, green dye would be remarkably useless in Irish pubs," Irish citizen Luke Sebastian answered on Quora, when asked if those in Ireland also drink green beer for the holiday. "Adding it to beer is an American rather than Irish custom."

2
Dyeing rivers green

the chicago river after being dyed green for st. patrick's day
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Those who celebrate St. Patrick's Day in Chicago know all about the work that goes into dyeing the Chicago River green. As the Chicago Tribune reports, the tradition started in 1962 and every year since, 40 pounds of eco-friendly dye has been used to color the river green for a day or two. Over the years, USA Today reports, other U.S. cities, including Indianapolis, Tampa, and Washington, D.C., have joined in the practice, but 2020 marks the first year the U.S. tradition will debut overseas. According to Irish Central, it's been confirmed that Dublin's River Liffey will be dyed green with the help of the city of Chicago's plumbing authorities.

3
Or just using the color green in general

green st. patrick's day accessories
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Transforming the holiday into an all-out green fest doesn't really have roots in Irish culture. Early depictions of Saint Patrick actually had him wearing blue garments, Smithsonian reports. King George III even created a "new order of chivalry" for Ireland, with the official color being a sky blue known as "St. Patrick's Blue." According to The Christian Science Monitor, people in the U.S. started wearing green to celebrate the day in the early 1700s because they believed it "made one invisible to leprechauns," fairy-like creatures who would "pinch anyone they could see."

4
Eating corned beef and cabbage

homemade corned beef and cabbage or a plate with carrots and potatoes
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A meal of corned beef and cabbage has become a St. Patrick's Day staple on Mar. 17 in the U.S., but contrary to what you may have previously believed, it is not a traditional Irish dish. According to History.com, the idea behind pairing these two foods together comes from Irish-Americans in New York City, as it was a cheaper, more accessible version of Irish pork and potatoes.

5
Ordering a Shamrock Shake from McDonald's

mcdonalds shamrock shake
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It would only make sense for McDonald's to introduce their signature Shamrock Shake in Ireland, right? Wrong. According to HuffPost, the Shamrock Shake was actually first introduced in the U.S. as the St. Patrick's Day Shake in 1970, and it was only at select stores. It wasn't until 2012 that the dessert drink went nationwide, and in 2020, it was announced that it would be available in Ireland and Canada.

6
Holding St. Patrick's Day parades

crowds waiting for a st. patrick's day parade
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The first St. Patrick's Day parades weren't held in Ireland. In fact, the U.S. was the first to march as a way to celebrate the holiday. According to an article for Irish Central, historian J. Michael Francis uncovered that in 1601, the first St. Patrick's Day parade was held in St. Augustine, Florida. That was nearly 420 years ago, and Ireland didn't hold its first parade until 1903.

7
Calling it "St. Patty's Day"

st patty's day table setting
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In the U.S., we love giving things nicknames, including holidays like St. Patrick's Day. However, you'll never see it referred to as "St. Patty's Day" in Ireland. As Merriam-Webster points out, many Irish people actually find this shortened version offensive, as "Patty" is commonly seen as a nickname for the female name Patricia. If you were to see the holiday name shortened at all in Ireland, it would be spelled "Paddy," the shortened form of Patrick, which is the English version of the Gaelic name, Pádraig

Kali Coleman
Kali is an assistant editor at Best Life. Read more
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