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12 St. Patrick’s Day “Facts” That Are Actually False

How much do you know about the history of St. Patrick’s Day traditions? Many of these popular St. Patrick's Day "facts" actually aren't true.

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Garland with irish flag colors in a street of Dublin, Ireland - Saint Patrick day celebration concept. St. Patrick's Day fun facts.Delpixart/Getty Images

False fact: St. Patrick was Irish

This is a common St. Patrick’s Day fact that seems like a no-brainer. However, the patron saint of Ireland was actually born in Scotland in the late fourth century. When he was a teenager, Palladius (his real name) was kidnapped and sold into slavery in Ireland. Six years later, he escaped and went back to Scotland, where he joined a monastery. As an adult, Palladius returned to Ireland as a missionary, where he lived for 40 years, dying in A.D. 461. He’s just one of many historical figures you’ve probably been picturing wrong.

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Green birthday cake with green candles. st patricks day fun facts.RuthBlack/Getty Images

False fact: March 17th was St. Patrick’s birthday

A saint’s feast day marks the day that they died, not the day that they were born. St. Patrick’s Day 2021 marks the 1,560th anniversary of St. Patrick’s death. In addition to these false St. Patrick’s Day facts, we bet you didn’t know these surprising facts about the month of March.

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St Patrick at Dublin Castle, Ireland. St Patrick's Day fun facts.Lesley Rigg/Shutterstock

False fact: St. Patrick was a canonized saint

This St. Patrick’s Day fact seems like it would be true, and surprises people when they find out it’s not. The process of officially canonizing saints didn’t become common practice in the Church until long after St. Patrick’s death. During St. Patrick’s lifetime, “saint” was not an official title bestowed only on those whom the Pope deemed worthy. It was instead more of a general title that would be assigned to people who lived especially holy lives or performed acts of martyrdom. Get the lingo right and learn the meaning behind the common St. Patrick’s Day saying, Erin Go Bragh.

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Refreshing Festive Green Beer For St. Patricks Day. fun facts.bhofack2/Getty Images

False fact: Green is the color of St. Patrick’s Day

This one of the more popular St. Patrick’s Day facts that just isn’t true. Although green is the color most associated with Ireland (it is the “Emerald Isle” after all), it’s not St. Patrick’s color. Members of the Order of St. Patrick actually used blue as their symbolic color. The shade: St. Patrick’s blue. Here’s more about why we wear green on March 17.

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Clover. Texture. St Patrick's Day fun facts.Scacciamosche/Getty Images

False fact: St. Patrick used the shamrock to represent the Holy Trinity

Yes, the shamrock has three leaves—but there’s no historical evidence that St. Patrick/Palladius used it as a symbol to demonstrate Christianity. In fact, it’s unlikely he introduced Christianity to the Emerald Isle at all, a feat with which he is often attributed. In the fifth century AD, the Pope sent Palladius to Ireland with the mission of preaching to “the Irish believing in Christ.” So he didn’t introduce Christianity to Ireland…he really just helped it along. As for the shamrock, Palladius may well have used it to represent the Holy Trinity, but the shamrock already had symbolic significance in pagan traditions as well. Green was an important color to paganism because it represented rebirth, and the number three was as much a staple of paganism as it is of Christianity. Many pagan religions have three primary gods.

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four leaf clover. st patricks day fun factsmidori4/Getty Images

False fact: It’s easy to find a four-leaf clover

You might need to find an alternative for good luck. The odds of finding a four-leaf clover are about 1 in 10,000. Contrary to popular belief, it’s more difficult than you think to find a four-leaf clover. Here are some potentially more reliable St. Patrick’s Day traditions that will bring you luck.

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Smiling young people drinking craft beer in pub on St Patrick's Day holiday. fun facts.Lordn/Getty Images

False fact: St. Patrick’s Day is traditionally a party-hearty holiday

The truth lies right there in the name: Saint Patrick’s Day. It’s a feast day for a Catholic saint, best known for converting native Irish people to Christianity. Until the 1700s, it was a day in the Catholic calendar in observance of a saint important to and popular in Ireland…and not much anywhere else. And even in Ireland, Catholics honored St. Patrick with prayer and quiet reflection. St. Patrick’s Day, as we know it today, started in America in the late 19th and early 20th century, when the large numbers of newly arrived Irish immigrants began using the day as a way to celebrate their Irish heritage.

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st patricks parade. st patrick's day fun facts.Siouxsnapp/shutterstock

False fact: Many of today’s St. Patrick’s Day traditions started in Ireland

A St. Patrick’s Day fact people often get wrong is that many of this day’s traditions started in Ireland. Many St. Paddy’s Day traditions that we may think of as traditionally Irish actually originated in the United States. The first St. Patrick’s Day parade, for instance, occurred in New York City in 1782, and it became an annual event in 1848. Meanwhile, it wasn’t until 1931 that Ireland held an official St. Patrick’s Day parade. And as for alcohol consumption, it was not a staple of the holiday in Ireland by any means. In fact, until the 1960s, pubs in Ireland were closed on March 17, in observance of the religious holiday. A little different from America’s celebrations.

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Homemade Corned Beef and Cabbage with Carrots and Potatoes. St Patricks Day fun facts.bhofack2/Getty Images

False fact: Eating corned beef on St. Patrick’s Day is an Irish tradition

Up until the 20th century, pork was much cheaper to raise, and of course eat, for the average family in Ireland. Corned beef is historically unheard of in Ireland (although salt-cured beef was an occasional meal). Like the holiday’s modern celebration, eating corned beef started in the late 19th century. Irish immigrants bought corned beef from Jewish delis in New York City instead of the more common (in Ireland) St. Patrick’s Day meat of cured pork (ham, bacon).

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grass snake. st patricks day fun facts.DamianKuzdak/Getty Images

False fact: St. Patrick banished all the snakes from Ireland

This St. Patrick’s Day fact stems from stories. Legend has it that St. Patrick gave a rousing sermon that sent all of Ireland’s snakes slithering off into the ocean. If only it were that easy. The Emerald Isle owes its lack of serpents not to St. Patrick but to the Ice Age and geography. The shifting glaciers of the last Ice Age left Ireland surrounded by water, making it impossible for snakes to reach it. Before then, the land that would become Ireland was far too cold for the cold-blooded creatures to survive. You can’t banish snakes from somewhere where there were no snakes to begin with. We bet you never knew these words had Gaelic origins.

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Green leprechaun hat with black belt and buckle next to gold dust and coins with glitter shamrocks and an Ireland flag representing the Catholic spring holiday of Saint Patrick. St Patrick's Day fun facts.Philip Rozenski/Getty Images

False fact: Leprechauns are directly related to St. Patrick’s Day

More people don red beards and green hats on St. Patrick’s Day than on any other day of the year, and yet leprechauns and St. Patrick’s Day really aren’t related, aside from the fact that they’re both Irish. Leprechauns didn’t become a staple of Irish literature until many years after St. Patrick’s famed journey through Ireland.

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Female Leprechaun on the grass next to a pot of gold. st patricks day fun facts.Sadeugra/Getty Images

False fact: There are female leprechauns

Even though many decorations around St. Patrick’s Day may show female leprechauns, traditional leprechauns are only male. In the “Fairy Legends” book published in 1825, the text read: “Since that time leprechauns seem to be entirely male and solitary.”

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest