While St. Patrick’s Day is originally named after the patron saint of Ireland, it has become more and more recognized over the past several hundred years by people all over the world. Today, St. Patrick’s Day is one of the more commonly celebrated spring holidays, with widespread participation even from those without any Irish heritage. Why do we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, though, and what are some of the distinct St. Patrick’s traditions observed in different places throughout the globe?
St. Patrick’s Day History and Meaning
St. Patrick’s Day takes place on March 17 every year. This date is significant in that, starting around the 1700s, it traditionally came to be celebrated as a brief break from the fasting and prohibitions of the Lenten season. However, while contemporary St. Patrick’s Day traditions of eating, drinking, and general merriment trace back to its role as a day of indulgence in the middle of Lent, this was not always the holiday’s original meaning.
St. Patrick’s day was originally meant to commemorate the life of fifth-century Catholic Saint Patrick, who is credited with bringing Christianity to Ireland. Even one of St. Patrick’s Day’s most recognizable symbols, the shamrock, traces back to a legend that Saint Patrick used the three-leaf clover as a way to describe the Christian Holy Trinity.
As immigration spread Irish heritage across the globe, unique twists on St. Patrick’s Day traditions began to develop in different countries. St. Patrick’s Day is now frequently seen as a time to celebrate Irish heritage and culture, including traditional music and dance, folklore, and cuisine. Traditional St. Patrick’s Day food often includes colcannon, corned beef and cabbage, Irish soda bread, and, of course, plenty of dark Guinness stout.
St. Patrick’s Day in Dublin
One of the most extravagant St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in the world takes place in Dublin. While Ireland hosts large gatherings across the country, Dublin is unrivaled in its four-day-long celebration that draws roughly half a million people. Festivities include traditional dress and dancing along the parade route along with pubs and restaurants serving favorite Irish dishes and pints of Guinness.
St. Patrick’s Day in New York
New York City held its first St. Patrick’s Day parade in 1762 and has grown into the biggest celebration of the holiday in the U.S., with over two million people attending each year. Manhattan is host to the largest St. Patrick’s parade in the world — a six-hour event that features 150,000 dancers, musicians, and other performers. Even the iconic city skyline is part of the celebration, with the Empire State Building being lit up green for the day.
St. Patrick’s Day in Chicago
One of the most famous St. Patrick’s Day traditions in the U.S. occurs every year in Chicago, when thousands of people gather to watch as the city dyes the river green. This backdrop adds an extra festive touch to the lakefront 5Ks, pub crawls, and the city’s annual parade!
St. Patrick’s Day in Montserrat
There are only two places in the world where St. Patrick’s Day is an official public holiday: Ireland, and the small island of Montserrat in the Caribbean. Tracing back to a 17th-century Irish Catholic settlement, the island has such deep cultural ties to Ireland that it’s known today as “the other Emerald Isle.” While visitors will get a shamrock stamp in their passports to commemorate their visit, those who attend around St. Patrick’s day will also get to witness a unique 10-day festival celebrating not just Irish roots and calypso tradition, but also commemorating Montserrat’s historical first slave rebellion.
St. Patrick’s Day in Auckland
Because of its time zone, Auckland, New Zealand is one of the first cities to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day each year. Due to British colonization in the mid-1800s, New Zealand is actually home to a significant Irish population: an estimated 15-20% of all New Zealanders are of Irish descent! The country’s largest city, Auckland, kicks off the global St. Patrick’s Day celebrations every year with a parade and traditional Irish dance competition. They are also known for their yearly St. Patrick’s tradition of illuminating the 1,076-foot tall Sky Tower with green lights.
St. Patrick’s Day in London
While Dubliners are wrapped up in a multi-day program of traditional activities, nearby England hosts its own bustling St. Patrick’s Day celebration in London. Centered around a St. Patrick’s Day parade to Trafalgar Square, attendees can enjoy traditional Irish food, dancing, folk performances and storytelling, and other cultural traditions. The London Eye Ferris wheel, which looks out over the city on the bank of the Thames, is lit up green for the night as well.
St. Patrick’s Day in Buenos Aires
If you’re not a big fan of traditional St. Patrick’s Day parades, then the yearly celebrations held in Buenos Aires, Argentina may be for you. Buenos Aires hosts a massive block party (around 10 city blocks), with traditional live music, dancing, and over 50 food and drink stalls set up along the sprawling Avenida de Mayo. This is the largest St. Patrick’s celebration in South America, as Buenos Aires is home to one of the largest Irish populations in the world!
St. Patrick’s Day in Tokyo
Approaching its 29th year, Tokyo’s St. Patrick’s Day celebration includes a unique touch: the heavily costumed parade through the Omotesando shopping district showcases a large group of Irish setters! The parade also kicks off the two-day “I Love Ireland” festival in nearby Yoyogi Park, which features traditional St. Patrick’s Day food and drinks.
Hope our list gave you a little bit of insight into St. Patrick’s Day celebrations around the world. While you’re here, if you’re looking for a quick, fun way to experience some of the St. Paddy’s spirit, you can celebrate with St. Patrick’s Day flowers from FTD. Or, if you’re looking for other tips on how to celebrate holidays throughout the year, learn what gifts you should send anyone for Easter and Valentine’s Day this year. We also have a guide for Valentine’s Day gifts for kids!