St. Patrick’s Day origins

Did you know the original symbolic color was not green?

Charles McQuillan

Celebrated on March 17th, St. Patrick’s Day brings color and cheer to the new year. After the cold of winter is over, festivals across the country are held to bring joy and excitement to spring. It is also meant to be a celebration of Irish culture with feasts of corned beef and cabbage, decorations in the shape of shamrocks, and millions of people clad in green, white, and orange. However, the true beginnings of this holiday are a bit different than the festivities of today.
The meaning of St. Patrick’s Day has changed drastically over the course of many centuries. The holiday has been celebrated as far back as the 10th century to honor Ireland’s patron saint, Saint Patrick. He lived during the 4th century, where he is credited for bringing Christianity to the Irish people. In the centuries following his death, many rumors and legends started being spread. The most famous legend of St. Patrick says that he once used the three leaves of a shamrock to explain the Holy Trinity.
However, the holiday started to dramatically grow in popularity around the 17th century, not in Ireland, but in America. In 1601, the first St. Patrick’s Day parade took place in a Spanish colony in modern day St. Augustine, Florida. It was organized by Irish religious representative Ricardo Artur. In 1762, New York City’s first St. Patrick’s Day parade was organized by Irish soldiers of the British army. Just like today, it was a magnificent celebration of Irish culture and heritage. The celebration only grew from there as more American cities, such as Boston, Chicago, and Philadelphia started taking part in their own festivities.
Over time, other cities started coming up with their own ways to celebrate. Some would say that the most famous tradition is the dyeing of the Chicago River. It started in 1962 when dyes were used to trace illegal sewage discharges. The city pollution-control workers thought that it would be a fun and unique way to celebrate the holiday if the entire river were dyed green. That year, the city released 100 pounds of vegetable dye into the Chicago River, turning the entire river green for a week. Only 40 pounds of dye are used today to minimize environmental damage, which still turns the river green for a few hours.
Strangely, one of the biggest changes during the holiday’s history was the color. Green wasn’t always associated with Ireland and St. Patrick’s Day. Originally, blue was the color used to celebrate the holiday, due to its use in the royal court and on ancient Irish flags. Still, green has been used by the Irish for nationalistic reasons for centuries. According to Timothy McMahon, Vice President of the American Conference for Irish Studies, green was first used during the Great Irish Rebellion of 1641. The rebellion was led by a group of Catholics fighting against England when King James I established a plantation in the north of Ireland.
St. Patrick’s Day has exploded in popularity in the past few centuries, bringing with it many variations and changes. Today, it is still a cultural sensation that celebrates the history and customs of Ireland. As the holiday has continued to grow, I believe many would argue that it has brought a very positive message about diversity and cultural appreciation.

“History of St. Patrick’s Day.”, A&E Television Networks, 27 Oct. 2009,

“St. Patrick’s Day.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 17 Jan.