Most Americans associate St. Patrick’s day with wearing green clothes, drinking green beverages or viewing the Chicago River after it’s been dyed green. The holiday looks a little different now than when it was originally celebrated around the ninth century.

Who is St. Patrick?

St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated annually on March 17, the anniversary of St. Patrick, patron saint of Ireland and its national apostle. Born in Roman Britain toward the end of the fourth century, he was kidnapped when he was 16 and taken to Ireland, where he became a slave. He eventually escaped.

He later became a priest and returned to Ireland to convert the Irish people to Christianity. According to Time magazine, “St. Patrick was actually born Maewyn Succat, according to legend; he changed his name to Patricius, or Patrick, which derives from the Latin term for ‘father figure,’ when he became a priest.”

By the time of his death, St. Patrick had established schools, churches and monasteries. Although he did notable things in his lifetime, it’s the legends surrounding his story that keep the celebration of his life alive today.

Legend has it that he preached a sermon on a hillside in Ireland banning all snakes from the island. More notable is the legend that he preached about the Holy Trinity using the native Irish clover to symbolize the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, which gave the shamrock its popularity today.

The holiday goes big

Throughout history, Ireland has celebrated the holiday with religious observance and a traditional feast of Irish native food like cabbage and Irish bacon. However, it was the patriotism of Irish immigrants to America that gave the holiday its global popularity.

According to, “One of the earliest St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in America took place in Boston in 1737, when a group of Irish Protestants gathered to honor their homeland’s saint. ... In the 1760s, when America still consisted of 13 British colonies, a group of Irishmen serving in the British army in New York City started the tradition of parading on St. Patrick’s Day.”

Chicago’s tradition of dyeing the Chicago River green began in 1960 as a way to clean up the river’s waterfront. The green dye helped plumbers spot where pipes were leaking sewage into the river. “In 1962, the Plumbers Local Union decided to use 100 pounds of that dye in the river to turn it green for St. Patrick’s Day — and it stayed that way for a week,” Enjoy Illinois said.

New York City holds the record for the largest St. Patrick’s Day parade. “Today the parade, which travels 1.5 miles up Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, is billed as the world’s oldest and largest St. Patrick’s Day parade. Among the approximately 150,000 marchers are politicians, school children, bands, bagpipers, police, firefighters and other municipal workers,” reported.

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Holiday expenses

Due to the fact that St. Patrick’s Day falls on a Friday this year, odds are more people will go out to share their holiday spirit. The National Retail Federation estimated how much they think Americans will be spending this holiday: “Americans are estimated to spend $6.85 billion.” They report that the average American will spend about $43.84 and that nearly 61% of Americans will be participating in festivities — more than ever before.