On March 17, 1631, St. Patrick's Day celebrations started when the Church established a Feast Day honoring St. Patrick, the Patron Saint of Ireland. The symbol of the shamrock used for St. Patrick’s Day comes from the story of St. Patrick using the shamrock to illustrate the Holy Trinity.
St. Patrick’s Day was first celebrated in America in 1737, St. Patrick’s Day parades started in New York in 1762 by a group of Irish soldiers in the British military. It wasn’t until 1798, the year of the Irish Rebellion, that the color green became officially associated with the day, until the rebellion, the color associated with St. Patrick was blue, as it was featured both in the royal court and on ancient Irish flags. Yet the British wore red, the Irish chose to wear green, and they sang the song “The Wearing of the Green” during the rebellion, cementing the color’s relevance in Irish history.
In 1845 the 'Great Potato Famine' hit Ireland, close to 1 million poor and uneducated Irish Catholics began traveling to America to escape starvation. Many immigrants had trouble finding even menial jobs. When Irish Americans in the country’s cities took to the streets on St. Patrick’s Day to celebrate their heritage, newspapers portrayed them in cartoons as drunk, violent monkeys.
In 1848, several New York Irish Aid societies decided to unite their parades to form one official New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade. Today, that parade is the world ‘s oldest civilian parade and the largest in the United States, with over 150,000 participants.
American Irish soon realized, their large and growing numbers endowed them with a political power that had yet to be exploited. They started to organize, and their voting block, known as the “green machine,” became an important swing vote for political hopefuls. Annual St. Patrick’s Day parades became a show of strength for Irish Americans, as well as a must-attend event for a slew of political candidates. In 1948, President Harry S. Truman attended New York City ‘s St. Patrick’s Day parade.
The holiday eventually evolved into the raucous holiday we know today. People of all backgrounds celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, especially throughout the United States, Canada and Australia with traditional Irish food, including corned beef, cabbage, soda bread, potatoes, and shepherd’s pie. Many celebrations also have an Irish breakfast of sausage, black and white pudding, fried eggs, and fried tomatoes.
Approximately 1 million people annually take part in Ireland‘s St. Patrick’s Festival in Dublin, a multi-day celebration featuring parades, concerts, outdoor theater productions and fireworks shows.