Food and Drink - A History of St. Patrick's Day Traditions

March 14, 2017 by Larry Struckman

StPaddysDay2017.pngOf the many holidays throughout the year where food and drink are part of the traditions, St. Patrick's Day provides a great opportunity for people to go out and celebrate with green everything - from clothes to beer to food. As St. Patrick's Day falls on a Friday this year, there is no doubt that people will be flocking to restaurants providing some solid fun and St. Patrick's Day traditions. But where did this holiday come from? Why is green beer mandatory? What are some of the best Irish dishes to include on a menu to celebrate the holiday?

A Brief History of St. Patrick

Born Maewyn Succat in Rome, St. Patrick was enslaved and taken to Ireland in the fifth century. He turned to Christianity to get him through the tough times in enslavement. Once he was free, he spent his life in Ireland converting Druids to Christianity. He even changed his name to Patrick, as it derives from the word meaning father figure in Latin, and became the Patron Saint of Ireland. Often arrested and persecuted, St. Patrick did not give up on his goal of spreading Christianity throughout Ireland until his death on March 17th.

Tales of his accomplishments are legend and, while not founded in complete truth like the story of him driving snakes out of Ireland, the centuries of storytelling created a fascinating figure. For all the work he did in spreading Christianity, despite the legendary tales of how he spread the religion, the Catholic Church made March 17th a religious holiday called Feast Day in 1631.

Why Food and Drink Are Part of St. Patrick's Day Celebrations

Since St. Patrick died during Lent, Feast Day was created to honor his life and give Christians a day off from the fasting that leads up to Easter. The problem was Christians began to use St. Patrick's Day as an excuse to go overboard on indulgence (especially in Ireland) by practicing gluttony when it came to food and drink. The Church saw it getting out of hand and, in 1720, associated the shamrock with the holiday to remind people that the day was based in religious practice. This is due to a legend that St. Patrick used a shamrock to explain the Holy Trinity.

The shamrock became part of the tradition, but did not slow down Christians from over celebrating the holiday with food and drink. In 1762, New York City with their large number of Irish immigrants started a parade with plenty of food and drink available in pubs and bars after the parade. The Irish Rebellion took place in 1798 and, while the British wore red in battle, the Irish distinguished themselves with the color green. This replaced the holiday's traditional color of blue (associated because of the royal nature of St. Patrick) with the color green.

It became tradition through the centuries to celebrate St. Patrick's day with traditional Irish fare including corned beef and cabbage and plenty of beer so people of all income statuses could afford to celebrate with drink. However, green beer did not become popular until the late 20th century. Before the 1980s, all businesses and pubs would close on March 17th to observe the holiday. While celebrations occurred in homes, Budweiser wanted to cement St. Patrick's Day as a beer-centric holiday by promoting drinking green beer to observe the day. The marketing campaign was a huge success and it became tradition to open the pubs on St. Patrick's Day and serve green beer to remember the Irish Rebellion and blow off some steam during Lent.

The Popular Irish Food Dish - Corned Beef and Cabbage

If you are a restaurant putting on a St. Patrick's Day celebration with food and drink specials, you better have a corned beef and cabbage dish on the menu to provide that Irish authenticity to match the day. However, corned beef and cabbage is not even a popular dish in Ireland! Here is how it began.

Corned beef and cabbage is actually a pork and potato dish in Ireland, creating an Irish bacon out of the pork. At that time, potatoes were plentiful and pork was one of the cheapest meats you could buy in Ireland. After the first St. Patrick's Day parade in New York City, more Irish immigrants began flocking to the United States. When they arrived, pork was actually one of the most expensive meats you could get in America. This caused them to switch to using beef to make corned beef. While potatoes were certainly cheap, there was a great deal of discrimination at the time against European immigrants. This made it difficult for Irish immigrants to go to markets owned by natural born citizens. Irish immigrants began frequenting Jewish delis and markets where they discovered the affordability and great flavor combination of cabbage with corned beef. It became an Irish-American traditional meal and is now a staple for St. Patrick's Day.

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Larry Struckman

Passionate about setting up systems and procedures that assure success, training, consulting, growing sales, strategic planning, creating "raving fan" customer service and just about anything related to food service. 25+ years in food and sales as well as growing hundreds of concepts with different operators (I have seen them all). I enjoy cooking, computer software, Taekwondo and spending time with my family. We started ShiftNote in 2007 to help organizations like yours create a better platform for shift-to-shift communication across their organization. Our purpose is to serve you with the best online digital logbook and employee scheduling software on the market so you can spend more time focusing on growing your business.