The History and Legacy of St. Patrick’s Day

Haley Wolff

The Chicago River going green, green leprechauns, green clothes, and green beer can only mean one thing, St. Patrick’s Day is approaching.


St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated annually on March 17th in memory of the anniversary of his death. The Irish observed this day as a religious holiday for centuries. While it falls in the Christian season of Lent, many enjoyed the exception from the abstinence from meat if fallen on Friday. Nowadays, whether there is to be a dispensation is up to the archdiocese on a case-to-case basis, such as this year, as it falls on a Friday.

St. Patrick lived during the 15th century and is the patron saint of Ireland. He was brought to Ireland as a slave at the age of 16 and later escaped, returning years later, and is credited with spreading Christianity. After his death, his life’s story was engrained in Irish culture. For example, it was said he explained the Holy Trinity using the three leaves of the Irish clover, aka, the shamrock, and symbol to the modern holiday.

The first St. Patrick’s Day parade took place not in Ireland, but America, specifically in the Spanish colony that is now St. Augustine Florida. Cities such as New York and Boston followed shortly after and the holiday’s popularity grew from there.  Annual St. Patrick’s Day parades became a show of strength for the Irish Americans, especially as millions came to the US after the Great Potato Famine in 1845. In 1948, President Truman’s attendance to the New York City’s parade sparked a proud moment for the Irish as they felt they finally were accepted in the “New World”.

Over the years each city has developed their own traditions and draws people in for festivities and fun.


Best Cities in the US to Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day

BOSTON, Massachusetts

This city hosts one of the biggest St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in the world. Historians date the earliest parade here in 1737. Today it is one of the biggest celebrations outside of Ireland, as over half a million people arrive in Boston to celebrate the Irish holiday. The size of the celebration is mainly contributed to the parade. This 3-mile parade is the highlight of the holiday and contains lots of colorful characters, bands, Irish dancers, bagpipes, and floats. Bands come to perform live and the city offers many opportunities for entertainment and means to participate in the Irish cheer.


Home of the legendary Shamrock Festival, the capital never fails to disappoint. Their all-day event has something for everyone and features over 50 bands, Irish dancers, games, carnival rides, an Irish village, and plenty of other activities. Parades are essential to the holiday and the one that occurs on Constitutional Avenue does not disappoint as it is about 2.5 hours in length. It contains marching bands, pipe bands, military, police and fire departments, dancers, and floats. After a full day of outdoor activities, you’ll find many at the various local Irish pubs where live music can be heard.

CHICAGO, Illinois

One of the most known traditions for St. Patrick’s Day is the dying of the Chicago River. The dying of the river itself brings in a huge crowd and people gather to watch the water turn to the green of the rolling hills of Ireland. They too celebrate with a float parade consisting of bagpipers, Irish dancers, Irish flags, and Irish bands. The color green and beer can be found around every corner, but what else can you expect from the Midwest?


Savannah hosts the second-largest parade in the country. Starting their celebration over a week prior, a week-long pub crawl can be found commencing leading up to the 17th. The weekend before the celebration includes one of the city’s largest parties of the year with the St. Patrick’s Celebration on the River. This features live entertainment, games, food, and lots of beverages. Many of the fountains in the city’s historic parks can even be found dyed green.


No matter where you live celebrations for St. Patrick’s Day can be seen and heard as it brings people and cultures together for good food, good drinks, and a good time.