Why Is St Patrick Day a Drinking Holiday
When it comes to the month of March, there’s a lot to look forward to. It's the start of spring, the time to fill out your brackets for March Madness, and of course, St. Patrick’s Day.
Every year, on March 17th, many of us celebrate Ireland and its patron saint, Saint Patrick, by knocking back a few pints of Guinness and shots of whiskey at the local pub. But why? Why beer on St. Patrick’s Day? Why is St. Patrick’s Day a drinking holiday at all?
It’s hard to say for sure, although American culture might have something to do with it. There are some practical, religious reasons that people may have celebrated the feast day with excess drinking. Plus, lore has it that St. Patrick himself also liked a drink. We may never really know why St. Patrick’s Day is associated with drinking, but diving into this article is a good place to start.
St. Patrick’s Day 101
St. Patrick’s Day is a feast day recognized by the Catholic Church to commemorate the life of St. Patrick on the anniversary of his death (March 17). The Irish have celebrated the holiday since sometime in the ninth or tenth century. However, the church didn’t add the feast day to the Catholic breviary, a book of prayers, until the 1630s.
Why This May Explain the Drinking Tradition
Lent is a 40-day period in the Catholic calendar leading to Easter celebrations. Lent starts in early March (on Ash Wednesday) and ends at sundown on Holy Thursday (in early April, leading up to Easter). During Lent, food and alcohol restrictions were placed on believers. They were not supposed to eat meat or drink alcohol during this 40-day period (modern-day restrictions are less stringent, mostly requiring believers to abstain from meat on Fridays during Lent).
St. Patrick’s Day, being an Irish Catholic feast day, meant these lenten restrictions did not apply. People could eat and drink on the day. This may be why we consider it a drinking holiday today.
Why This Probably Doesn’t Explain the Drinking Tradition
While this is a plausible explanation for our modern-day celebrations, it doesn’t quite track. In Ireland, most celebrations were staid and solemn until very recently. In fact, pubs in Ireland were ordered closed on St. Patrick’s Day until the mid-1960s.
America’s Influence on St. Patrick’s Day Drinking Habits
It’s time to leave Ireland, cross the Atlantic, and see what’s happening in America. The truth is, most modern-day celebrations of St. Patrick’s Day have their roots in Irish American culture:
In 1737, the first modern-style celebrations of St. Patrick’s day took place amongst Irish immigrants in Boston, Massachusetts.
The St. Patrick’s Day parade also claims its beginnings in America, though the when and where are a bit less clear. In 1601, there were reports of a parade in St. Augustine, Florida (at the time a Spanish colony). Some claims say the Boston celebration was the first parade. Others pin it to New York City in the 1760s.
As more Irish immigrants came to America, the celebrations grew and, by the late 19th century, many major American cities had celebrations. These celebrations also signified defiance in the face of discrimination against the Irish.
By the 20th century, celebrations had moved beyond the Irish people and were celebrated across America by people who are not of Irish descent. This led to much of the modern-day marketing of the holiday, including its association with dying rivers and food products green, corned beef and cabbage, and, yes, beer and a general enthusiasm for drinking.
During the late 20th century, Ireland started shifting their celebrations. They opened pubs, adopted parades, and appealed to tourists with a more revelrous day of celebration modeled after American celebrations.
- Today, St. Patrick’s Day is more a global celebration of Irish culture, Irish heritage, and Irish ancestry, and has very little to do with its origins or the saint who gave it its name.
So, there you have it. While there are different explanations for why St. Patrick’s Day is a drinking holiday, the likely truth is that it evolved naturally into one by mixing Irish immigrants with American drinking culture and businesses seeing a marketing opportunity. These factors combined to create the parades and revelries we know today. Cheers!
Who Is St. Patrick?
Now that you’ve got a clearer understanding of why we typically celebrate St. Patrick’s Day by drinking, it’s worth exploring why we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day at all. Who is St. Patrick, anyway?
While it’s tempting to simply say that St. Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland and leave it at that, there’s plenty more to learn about his life that helps explain why we celebrate him to this day.
Did you know that Saint Patrick isn’t Irish? It’s true—and we’ve got even more surprising facts that’ll put your trivia to the test.
Wow your fellow St. Patrick’s Day partygoers with these historical tidbits:
St. Patrick was a Roman citizen who was born in Britain. Though his birthday is not known, it was likely in the early 5th century when Britain was under Roman control.
His father was named Calpurnius and was a local church deacon.
At 16, he was kidnapped, taken from his home, and brought to Ireland by raiders.
He spent six years in Ireland as a slave before escaping (or, possibly, being released) and returning to Britain.
According to his writing in the work Confessio, he often experienced dreams that would call him back to Ireland. Despite some reluctance, he would heed these callings and return to Ireland to preach his religious beliefs.
He found wonderful success converting the Irish (who were predominantly part of a Druid culture) into Christianity.
- He is believed to have died around March 17, 1961. He was never officially canonized by the Church as a saint, but was instead proclaimed a saint by the people of Ireland. The Catholic Church didn’t have an official canonization process in the first millennia.
Maybe you just read that brief history of St. Patrick’s life and wondered to yourself, what about the thing with the snakes? If so, you’re probably familiar with at least some of the myths that surround St. Patrick, many of which have survived in some form to this day:
The truth is generally thought that this is a metaphor for his driving out the old, Pagan way of thinking and replacing it with Christianity.
The switch to the color green is likely a result of Ireland taking on the color in the 18th-century during disputes with the British over Irish independence.
St. Patrick himself apparently claimed that he brought met back from the dead. The truth behind this one? Most likely some heavy boasting.
So, is this why we drink on St. Patrick’s Day? Probably not. More likely, it’s a piece of folklore made up, in part, to justify drinking that was already occurring on the day. Nevertheless, a fun story.
Enjoy St. Patrick’s Day with DRNXMYTH
Maybe a long story about natural evolution to explain why St. Patrick’s Day is a drinking holiday isn’t the one you like the most. That’s fine. St. Patrick himself is a figure cloaked in folklore and tall tales. So if you’d rather claim it was his love of booze that explains why we drink today, it would be in keeping with a man who drove non-existent snakes out of the Emerald Isle.
Regardless of the story you tell, you’ll probably be telling it over a drink. In which case, DRNXMYTH has you covered. We have recipes ranging from an Irish Car Bomb to an Irish Maid Cocktail to make St. Patrick’s Day the drinking holiday it was meant to be. We provide the joy of craft cocktails without you having to head out to the pub. So, this St. Patrick’s Day, instead of fighting the crowds, bring the full bar to you and host a celebration so sensational it’ll raise the dead (hey, if St. Patrick can claim it, why can’t you?).
- Britannica. St. Patrick. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Saint-Patrick
- Time. The True History Behind St. Patrick's Day. https://time.com/4261456/st-patrick-day-2016-history-real-saint/
- Confessio. St Patrick’s Confessio. https://www.confessio.ie/etexts/confessio_english#
- History. Who Was St. Patrick? https://www.history.com/topics/st-patricks-day/who-was-saint-patrick
- History. St. Patrick’s Day Legends and Myths Debunked. https://www.history.com/news/st-patricks-day-myths-debunked
- BBC. St Patrick's Day: The patron saint who 'liked a drink'. https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-northern-ireland-47543161
- History Extra. A brief history of St Patrick’s Day. https://www.historyextra.com/period/medieval/st-patricks-day-facts-who-irish-patron-saint-ireland-america-first-parade-traditions-green-shamrock/
- Time. How America Invented St. Patrick’s Day. https://time.com/3744055/america-invented-st-patricks-day/