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How St. Patrick’s Day Is Celebrated Around the World

Tuesday, March 12, 2024


Not all March 17th traditions include Guinness and leprechauns (many of them do). Enjoy a look at holiday traditions across the globe.


For many people in the U.S., the modern celebration of St. Patrick’s Day hasn’t been about its namesake Catholic saint for decades.

In fact, what began in 1601 as a parade celebrating the life of Saint Patrick—the patron saint of Ireland—is now better known as a day when people across the globe wear “Kiss Me, I’m Irish” tees and engage in public displays of, well, drunkenness.

That’s not to knock having a pint of Guinness on St. Patrick’s Day if you so choose—and, hey, put on the leprechaun hat while you’re at it, too. But it’s worth remembering that, before the worldwide revelry of “St. Paddy’s Day” monopolized March 17, there was Saint Patrick’s Day, the religious holiday.

A bit of history: Prior to sainthood, Patrick was born to a Roman British family in the fourth century. At sixteen, he was kidnapped from his home by Irish raiders and taken to Ireland, where he was enslaved. Following six years of servitude, Patrick was able to escape back to Roman Britain.


As an adult, he returned to Ireland—only this time around, he brought his Christian religion with him. (To this day, Patrick is credited with bringing Christianity to the country.) As a result, the day of his recorded death—March 17—was dubbed St. Patrick’s Day.

For centuries, the holiday was only associated with religion. Customs included feasting on boiled bacon, cabbage, and potatoes during Lent, and attending church services in praise of Saint Patrick.

Cultural traditions eventually took hold, with observers wearing blue (followed by the more famous green), planting potatoes, drinking beer, and tossing shamrocks over their shoulders for good luck.

The reach of St. Patrick’s Day has gone global in the centuries since the first parade in its honor. Outside of Ireland and the United States, St. Patrick’s Day is given celebratory treatment in the Caribbean, Canada, across Asia, and in numerous European countries.

Read on to learn about the different ways St. Patrick’s Day is observed the world over.


Montserrat

The island of Montserrat, a Caribbean island to the south of Antigua, is notable for being one of the only places outside of Ireland itself to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day as a national holiday. The island has long been occupied by the Irish, dating back to at least 1649, when English general Oliver Cromwell banished people from Ireland to the island.

As a result, Montserrat as a society has had Irish influence for centuries, as seen in their current usage of a shamrock passport stamp and a national flag depicting the Irish goddess Eriu.

Present-day St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in Montserrat include a ten day festival leading up to the big day, an all-night party called “Leprechaun’s Revenge,” marked by the typical revelry the holiday is associated with today, and a torch lighting to acknowledge the enslaved people who lost their lives attempting to rebel against their Irish slave owners on the island.


Mexico

In Mexico, celebrating St. Patrick’s Day is a countrywide “thank you” to the Irish soldiers who fought alongside Mexican soldiers in the Mexican-American War from 1846 to 1848.

During the war, a military unit dubbed the Saint Patrick’s Battalion formed in Mexico, comprised of European immigrants who refused to fight for the United States, due to America’s anti-Catholic sentiment.

Today, nearly two centuries later, Mexico celebrates St. Patrick’s Day with regional parades and bagpipe processions to honor “​​San Patricios,” or the Saint Patricks.


England

Britain’s Royal Family marks St. Patrick’s Day with a tradition dating back to King Edward VIII’s reign in the early 20th century. Edward’s wife, Queen Alexandra, began presenting bowls of shamrocks to members of the Irish Guards on every St. Patrick’s Day beginning in 1901. The tradition has remained a constant in the Royal Family, with Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, taking over the tradition as of 2012.


Germany

Germany, according to tradition, celebrates St. Patrick’s Day the Sunday before March 17. Munich’s famed Olympic Tower glows green in honor of the holiday, as does its city hall and the soccer stadium Allianz Arena.

In 2022, Munich canceled its annual parade and instead moved government celebrations online. There, viewers were treated to a message from Irish Ambassador to Germany Nicholas O’Brien, drone footage of Ireland, music, and traditional dance from Irish citizens.

Local celebrations also occur in cities around the country.


Canada

While annual parades are held in Montreal and Toronto, a three-day cultural festival is held in Manitoba for St. Patrick’s Day. Put on by the Irish Association of Manitoba, the festival features a fish-and-chip dinner, Celtic bands, and a party day filled with traditional music and dancing.

In Vancouver, an annual festival celebrating traditional Celtic culture—including food, music, and storytelling—is held the week of the holiday.

St. Patrick’s Day is also considered a public holiday in Newfoundland and Labrador.


Malaysia

In Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia, the St. Patrick’s Society of Selangor is famous for organizing an annual St. Patrick’s Day ball. The society was founded in 1925 and is composed of Irish people living in Malaysia, as well as the descendants of Irish people living in Malaysia.

The beer brand Heineken also regularly throws parties around major cities in Malaysia in honor of St. Patrick’s Day. The “Friendliest Fridge” campaign urges people to bond over pints of Guinness beer at local bars.


Belgium

Manneken-Pis, a popular statue of a young boy in the Brussels city center, is dressed in a traditional Irish cable knit sweater every St. Patrick’s Day.

During past celebrations, Brussels has also illuminated multiple buildings and attractions in the color green, including its city hall, the Smurf Statue, the Galeries Royales Saint Hubert, and the Tower of St. James, along with the Provincial Government Building in Antwerp.


United States

St. Patrick’s Day traditions run the gamut across the U.S. The first St. Patrick’s Day parade took place in St. Augustine, Florida, in 1601, and set the stage for future parades to occur across the States as time went on.

Some of the longest-running St. Patrick’s Day parades occur in Cleveland, San Francisco, New York, Boston, and Philadelphia.

Kegs and Eggs, a St. Patrick’s Day celebration involving eating eggs and drinking beer, is popular among a younger crowd in the States, most notably on the East coast.

Famous bodies of water are dyed green, including the Chicago River in the Windy City, the White River in Indianapolis, and the north fountain at the White House.


Revelers usually wear green and eat the traditional meal of corned beef, cabbage, and soda bread, before consuming lots and lots of beer.

Hockey and basketball teams will also change their team jersey colors to green on occasion.

Because of the history of St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in the U.S., the month of March was officially dubbed Irish-American Heritage Month in 1991. 


Ireland

The country that gave Saint Patrick his sainthood honors the past and present when it comes to celebrating St. Patrick’s Day. Parades and festivals are a given; bars and restaurants will serve holiday-specific meals (with plenty of corned beef, boiled bacon, cabbage, and potatoes); and there’s plenty of Guinness for party-goers to enjoy.

Community institutions like museums will also host talks and tours, helping inquiring minds to remember how the holiday started.

Major Irish cities like Dublin, Cork, Limerick, and Kilkenny commemorate the holiday with multi-day festivals, fireworks, music, and dancing.

Churches also observe the holiday’s religious origins, with special services to honor Saint Patrick.






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