Looking at how St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated in the U.S. and in Ireland


Courtesy of Dr. Erin Siebert

One of the many views of Ireland. This photo was taken in 2019 by Dr. Erin Siebert on her trip study abroad trip she leads through San Jose State University.

Tanishka Tewari

St. Patrick’s Day is the celebration of the arrival of Christianity in Ireland and the celebration of Saint Patrick. What some may not know is how differently the holiday is celebrated in America than in Ireland. Dr. Erin Siebert is an assistant professor in the Department of Kinesiology at San Jose State University and leads a study abroad program that meets in Ireland and Northern Ireland. 

“In America it’s [St. Patrick’s Day] celebrated as a representation of Irish culture, which is a very hospitable or welcoming culture, so there are social gatherings, traditional music, festivals, colors, clothing, dancing and parades,” Siebert said. “Ireland focuses more on the Saint part of holiday. Unlike in America, it is focused on the Catholic Church and Saint Patrick, and having the appropriate feast is most important. There isn’t a rockus celebration and everybody doesn’t wear green. It is celebrated very differently from the American celebration. The family piece that is true to the Irish culture, during most holidays especially St. Paddy’s day, they have all their family gather in a matriarchal or patriarchal house, even if there is barely enough room. People should know that from an Irish perspective they care more about getting together with family and honoring the saint than Americans do and Americans should know about that.”

St. Patrick’s day is celebrated on March 17. Saint Patrick was not originally born an Irish nor was he born with the name Saint Patrick, instead he was born with the name Maewyn Succat, born in Roman Britain. He was captured and brought to Ireland as a slave at the age of 16 and kept in captivity for six years. He devoted himself to God, and eventually fled to France where he studied to become a priest. After years of working as a missionary, Patrick died on March 17, 461 in Saul, Ireland. St. Patrick was forgotten for a large period of time, until legends spread about his story. A famous tale that is told about him is that St. Patrick represented the Holy Trinity with a clover for its three sides. 

“Ireland has a  much deeper history than most people know or are taught,” Siebert said. “We see Ireland in opposition to Great Britain or England and the struggle for independence and freedom. Although the similarities get masked over between the two countries. Much of both countries’ history is shared, having the same beliefs and identities. Deeply rooted and alike past which shows that at the end of the day both Ireland and Britain and more similar than different. Did you know that the city of Dublin was once referred to as Little London.”

Americans have created their own traditions for how they celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. One such example is in Illinois, the Chicago River gets dyed green. Dying the Chicago River Green has been going on for the past 49 years. Others will make soda bread or eat traditional Irish meals.

Of course, in Ireland the celebration is a little different.

“In Ireland they don’t have a staple food dish,” Siebert said. “During this holiday red meat is excluded so they have boiled or fried fish with ‘chips’ or potato wedge fries or mashed potatoes, and mushy peas. There are a lot of potatoes. It is very common to have about two different types served every meal. But normal, very simple food is eaten on the holiday. Not necessarily boiled dinner or shepherd’s pie as Americans often make.”